Monday, February 28, 2011

On Bagels and Impressionism

"How do you do it?" someone asked me recently. Meaning write and homeschool and be a mom and get involved in community activities. 

Well, it's not as if on Day One I woke up with nothing to do, and on Day Two I added five children, a job, and a pile of volunteering obligations. No, I started by having a job and getting married. And then I had a baby and a husband and a job. Then I lost my job, and started freelancing. Then I had another baby. Then I added one volunteer activity. And so on.

To some people, the idea of having more than two kids is mindboggling. To others, raising children in the city borders on the impossible. (I get letters from readers of Daily Guideposts on this. The reason I raise kids in an urban area is that I'm a better mom when I have access to good bagels. Well, that and other reasons, which include the fact that I don't have a driver's license.)

Signac, Paul. Clipper, Asnieres (1887)
I do what I do the same way as you: you do it, instead of thinking about it. And I accept that I'm not always going to do everything well. And I focus my thoughts on what kind of picture my life is painting. And since painting a life is a pointillist endeavor, something that builds one dot of color at a time, I step back every now and then to see if this jumble actually reflects my priorities in life, or if it's more like the toppings on an everything bagel, tasty but going nowhere except down my throat.

And then I re-work things so they form a better picture, and change my palette if need be.

Ultimately that's how much control we have over life: we're given one point at a time. Maybe that one point is meaningless, or maybe it makes a difference. It all depends on your perspective.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Stuff about stuff

This morning Dancer and I needed to go to the early service at church, so she could be at an audition at noon. I made coffee, and then batter for blueberry pancakes. After flipping the pancakes I reached up into the cupboard to get the creamer we use to pour maple syrup. A pleasing thought passed through my mind: the creamer was part of our wedding china, and after almost 18 years of marriage it is still intact and still in use.

And then my hand closed around the creamer and I found that someone had broken the handle, and replaced the creamer without saying anything.

After I finished growling, and succeeded in tucking my pouty lip back where it belonged, I slid the pancakes onto a favorite plate. It, too, has been around 18 years, though I don't know where it came from. It is the one which has held pancakes every Sunday since forever, and it's probably supported every birthday cake I've ever baked. I like it very much. Secretly I wonder if my kids will argue over who gets to keep it when they're grown, but I haven't asked them and perhaps they don't care.

We don't have a whole lot of pretty things out and about for everyday use, for the very obvious reason that life with five kids involves a lot of breakage. I am sad when something I like breaks, but I'm also practical. It's stuff.

"People are more important than things" is one of the first lessons I teach my kids. Stuff is replaceable, but people are not. This week's lesson will be a repeat of one I've taught often in the past: when you've damaged something that belongs to someone else, you need to admit it freely and say you're sorry. And to the extent possible, you make restitution. Because even if it's just another broken thing, it's not yours. And it might mean more to someone else than it does to you.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Lifting elephants

It's Saturday morning, and Big Guy is slated for a home visit. Andrew just kissed me goodbye. The manuscript for his annual book is due, and he's in what we call his busy period. He's working long, long hours.

I have work to do, too: an online article about a local children's theater, and a monthly newsletter. But when Big Guy is home he must be supervised at all times. I can't leave him alone with the other kids while I work in the next room. I can't run down to do a load of laundry, or pop out to pick up milk. Some portion of my brain has to be allocated to paying attention to his moods, his actions, his whereabouts. All the time.

That's a lot to ask of a mom... and a lot to impose on a 14-year old boy. Just thinking about it feels like picking up an elephant. And yet the work itself is nowhere near the size of an elephant. The main task is getting all the can't-leave-the-house stuff done before Big Guy arrives. That's bunny stuff. Not impossible.

I think this is true a lot of the time. Our emotions are the size of an elephant, while the work is the size of a rabbit. Which means that often we can do what we need to do, as long as we divide our to-do list in two.

To-do list #1 (the Bunny List) consists of practicalities. In any given crisis, the practicalities are usually pretty simple: we have to make phone calls, set up appointments, craft an email, find the right kind of doctor or therapist, or clean up copious amounts of vomit. What has to get done can be reduced to a checklist.

To-do list #2 (the Elephant List) consists of coping with feelings. This is the hard stuff: the worries and fears and stress and insecurity and anxiety and inner objections. The elephants take time and energy to manage. But it's completely possible to say to your elephant, "I know you need my attention, and in order to do that well I'm going to tie you up safely over here for a moment while I go make this phone call. Then I'll be right back." And you go and do something on your bunny list... and that's one thing that's done on list #1.

Alternatively, you can say to the rabbit, "This elephant of mine is out of control right now. But tomorrow at 10 a.m. I'm going to make myself a cup of tea and place that phone call for you. It'll only take five minutes."

The key thing is not to confuse handling a rabbit with training an elephant. And to remember that we don't need to lift elephants. We only lead them in the right direction, prevent them from doing damage, and keep them from stepping on the bunnies.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Daily Guideposts: Your First Year of Motherhood

So... it's coming! The release date is April 1, and if you click on the link you'll get to Amazon, where you can pre-order if you're so inclined. 

Here's the skinny:
Motherhood is a devotional book is designed for first-time moms. The daily pieces are short (who has time to read when you have a newborn?) and very, very real. We have 20 fabulous and diverse writers, each of whom shares the struggles and joys, frustrations and insights of that first year.

It's not fluffy or precious -- it's real. The 365 devotions cover the whole range of first-year experiences: functioning through sleep deprivation, feeling like your baby is interfering with the 'real you', the need to find new ways to connect with God/husband/mother/friends, staring down loneliness and insecurity.There are devotions that express the joy of motherhood, and some that make you laugh out loud.

It's a book that's accessible to both the strong believer and the mom who hasn't been to church in... well, who remembers? In the words of a Jewish friend who looked over the manuscript, "Wow, I'd give this to anyone! This is helpful!" It's like having a group of honest and open friends who aren't afraid to say, "Yeah, I've felt that -- and here's what helped me. Here's how I grew, personally and spiritually."

The writers include a mom of twins, an adoptive mom, a mother who has a baby with Down Syndrome. There are city moms and small-town moms, lonely moms, insecure moms, and moms who figure out how to connect with others and relish this new and different stage of life. There's one dad, just for a different perspective. There are tips and prayers and a fabulous index that lets you quickly find the pieces that deal with whatever crisis you're experiencing at the moment.

It's a beautiful book, if I do say so myself. I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Parenting analogies that help

I was thinking today, in light of too many deaths too close together (six in the past month, none close friends or relations, but still...) how helpful it is at times to think of feelings as textures. It gives you a different insight into how to deal with them.

Grief, for example, is like mud that you have to swim through. It weighs you down and forces you to concentrate on even the simplest things. And if you think of grief this way, you know that the thing you need to do is take things slowly, to focus on breathing, to keep your strokes smooth and as steady as possible. Fear is more like an electric sander against your heart. You need to turn it off and calm frazzled nerves before you can function again.

These kinds of descriptions remind me of how, when my children were younger, I searched out ways to describe their beauty:

Eldest is like a diamond: dazzling, multifaceted, a beautiful reminder of the comfort of solid relationships.

Source: James Allen
Big Guy is more like a painting by Caravaggio, where the interplay of light and dark creates a fascinating beauty.

Betrayal of Christ, National Gallery of Ireland

Dancer is absolutely a Balanchine piece, weaving people and movement into a flurry of music and movement and smiles.

Source: Pacific Northwest Ballet

Snuggler is a larger than life collage, perhaps a Matisse mixed with the whimsy with Miro, full of bright and unexpected shapes and swirls.
Matisse: Creole Dancer

Little Guy is an excellent and humorous novel, full of word play and well-developed characters.
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
Not a novel, but a very funny book (some ribald humor).

These kinds of descriptions help me because they articulate something true about my children that mere adjectives do not. They describe beauty in a way that expands my understanding of what is good and wonderful, allowing me to notice it more easily and nourish it more readily. Try it. I'd love to hear what you come up with!



Sunday, February 20, 2011

In which things are discovered

Yesterday a little girl came over to play; her mom was in labor, and we took care of the soon-to-be big sister for a few hours until her grandma arrived.

In addition to re-discovering the sheer joy of having an inquisitive little one around, I discovered that my house is no longer toddler-proof. We pulled out Eldest's ancient animal figurines from the box under a cabinet, and I found marbles and tiny plastic army men and random jingle bells mixed in with the the toys. So as we made a zoo out of animals and blocks, I surreptitiously cleared the box of things that were chokable. In doing so I came across a purple flash drive. Could it be?!?

I inserted the drive in my laptop and let out a shout of glee -- my lost work! There was the outline for (and several sample chapters of) a manuscript I'd spent an entire summer working on several years back. It was all there, even the parts I didn't like. I read it and thought I can work with this!

It's been two years, maybe three, since I lost that drive. There have been several times I've intensely wished to share this particular piece of writing with others. It's here, and it's been here -- within ten feet of my computer -- all this time. Which seems like some sort of metaphor for life, though I'm not quite sure why.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A family update

Plenty o' people have been asking me how the kids are doing, and I realize I've been remiss in providing details.

Eldest is settling into her second semester of college, grappling with balancing 58 credit hours of coursework with remaining a human being. She's taking real analysis (which Wikipedia tells me "deals with the analytic properties of real functions and sequences, including convergence and limits of sequences of real numbers, the calculus of the real numbers, and continuity, smoothness and related properties of real-valued functions"... as if that's enlightening), computer science, the dreaded-but-required biology, linguistics, and concert choir.

Big Guy has been having a rough time of it. I was up at his school yesterday for a meeting to discuss his depression and difficulties. He misses being at home, but of course that's only part of the problem. Those of you who are praying folks can add him to your list, along with the hope that we can find him a great high school. It isn't easy.

Dancer is happy and busy. She received the good news that she got into American Ballet Theater's summer program, and she's getting ready for the spring performance at her ballet school. The latter entails more rehearsals than I can track; fortunately she is organized and motivated, and is in charge of her own schedule.

Snuggler continues to struggle with occasional stomach pain, but is otherwise occupied with art and tween fitness and friends and many things. She and I are beginning to work on a project for Water Aid, since Snuggler has a long-standing interest in providing clean water in third-world countries. More on that as it happens.

Little Guy is a reader! You may recall my big carrot challenge a while back; it made a difference. Shortly after that Little Guy dove into the A to Z Mysteries series, more certain of his capability. When he'd gotten through about 20 of the 26 books, he suddenly announced he was going to start reading The Lightning Thief (384 pages). He's been plugging away at that at the rate of a chapter or two a day, supplementing his knowledge with the D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. He's still a slow reader, but one who now has confidence. I have to give kudos to Andrew, who has been reading aloud the Narnia books to Little Guy at night, despite being in the throes of his annual book deadline. One of the great lures for becoming a reader is knowing that there are far more interesting and complex stories out there.

As for me, I do not lack for things to do or problems to solve. Nor do I lack good friends, a fabulous community, a roof over my head, solid faith, a love of life -- and a life of love. Thanks for being one of the good things in my world. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Little Engine That Couldn't

The Little Engine That Could
Several of my kids were born with a Little Engine That Couldn't mentality. Even if no one asks them to pull an entire train over the mountain so that all the good little boys and girls on the other side can have good food to eat and toys to play with, it's too hard.

To which I reply:
  • It's not too hard... with help.
  • It's not too hard... if you keep trying.
  • It's not too hard... if you talk yourself into it, instead of out of it.
  • It's not too hard... it's just hard.
None of us like hard things (unless we chose them). Hard means work. It's distasteful. It feels onerous. It's not comfy.

Doing hard things often makes kids whiny and resentful, which often results in irritated and cranky parents. Perhaps this is because we parents fall in the trap of thinking that parenting is too hard. It shouldn't be this difficult, should it? It shouldn't be this much work. It shouldn't require this much effort.

But hey -- it does. And it's not too hard... it's just hard. We can work at it, or not work at it. We can grow in patience, or indulge in impatience. We can learn to see things from a kid's perspective, or insist on our own.

The good thing is, we get to choose whether we're riding the Little Engine That Could or the Little Engine That Couldn't. We decide whether we think we can, or think we can't get better at this. We can opt to look at parenting as a way to become better people, or to look at it as an exercise in frustration.

I don't think it's hard to decide which of the two engines is the better bet. What takes effort is staying on the right train of thought.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Imperfect perfection

Pumpkin muffins are in the oven, and they're starting to smell good. I bake breakfast regularly, which is one of those things that -- because people don't bake much any more -- makes me seem like a SuperMom to some. In reality, it only takes five minutes to toss the recipe together, and it's five minutes I'm accustomed to spending. To me it's painless. 

Sometimes it's not hard to create the illusion of having super powers. All you have to do is to be good at doing one or two things that other people can't figure out how to do easily. When my kids were little, people thought I was Amazing simply because my kids' hair was brushed and their sweaters were buttoned straight and they had non-goobery noses. They thought I was Exalted because my little ones sat reasonably quietly in church.

My preschoolers had neat hair because I dislike dreadlocks in four year olds. My children pay attention during services because it's a priority for us. But just so you know, I can close the door on messy closets, and not one of my kids knows how to make a bed properly. SuperMom that I am, I'd rather leap over Legos in a single bound than pick them up. That means one of two things: either I'm patient with the messes my kids make, or I'm a slob. You choose.

Sometimes people think better of us for silly things, and sometimes they think worse of us because our priorities don't match theirs. Too bad. We're all imperfect, and we're each flawed in a different way. More to the point, each of us can help the other by being honest about where we struggle, and by sharing what we've figured out about life.
 So you're welcome to come over and have a fresh-baked pumpkin muffin today. We can have a lovely cup of coffee on the ancient sofa in my messy house, with my noisy kids who will interrupt us, and who will sometimes talk back. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

My bedtime reading lately has been A Blessing over Ashes: The Remarkable Odyssey of My Unlikely Brother by Adam Fifield. It's the memoir of a man from Vermont whose parents adopted a Cambodian boy. Soeuth had been a child slave under the Khmer Rouge regime.

Near the end of the book Fifield and Soeuth visit Cambodia as adults; in one of those odd quirks of fate it turned out that Soeuth's family had somehow survived the Killing Fields. The men go out in the field to help with the work, hacking into the hard, dry earth with hoes. The entire extended family is laboring in the blazing tropical sun, hauling water in buckets to soften the earth, hoping that the crops will grow so no one has to go hungry. Fifield and Soeuth take a break, and Soeuth looks at one of his Cambodian brothers working fiercely. "He's seventeen," he says to his American sibling, "And he'll be doing this his whole life."

Today is my birthday. I have not spent decades laboring in the fields. I have had the luxury of working on the assumption that life consists of more than survival. Life is unfair: I did not earn the right to my world of relative comfort. Whatever my struggles are -- and yes, I have some real ones -- I still ended up with the long end of the stick. I get to eat every day. I have access to good medical care. My children don't die of diarrhea.

There is a lot to be thankful for.

A lot.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

On not giving up

My cousin posted a quote on Facebook:
When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: you haven't.
~~Thomas Edison
No, you haven't. 

You may have exhausted your patience. 

You may have used up your willingness to look for a solution.

You may even have used up whatever hope you had.

But that doesn't mean that you've exhausted the possibilities, or that you need to quit. You may need to take a break to re-think the shape and size of the problem. You may need to make a conscious decision that your obstinacy is going to be bigger than the obstacle. You may even have to face the fact that you don't want to have to dig as deep or be as strong as you need to be.

Too often discouragement is a bigger issue than whatever 'real' problem we face. And I think it's worth asking why. Why do we fan our fears instead of stoking our determination?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dealing with (the perception of) defeat

I went to a public meeting with our state senator last night. It was not a happy event. He has his pet issues, and they don't map to mine. His priorities are affordable housing, followed by safety. Those are good things, essential things, and I don't argue with them. I can only assume that other parts of his constituency are struggling enough to survive that they haven't gotten around to my concern, which is education.

None of my kids are currently in public school, but it bothers me that the elementary school across the street has no budget for science for grades K-2. It appalls me that state reps recently considered eliminating funding for middle school libraries. It angers me that our legislators voted in the Common Core Standards (our state can't even meet its own, lower standards) and are now slashing the education budget. They've set the bar higher, and shortened the pole we need to jump over it.

Last night our state senator said that change in education has to begin with parental involvement. That didn't go over well among parents who put on an amazing fundraiser earlier this week, netting $35K for the local school. When I came home, my inbox bubbled and boiled with email from people who were really upset. I was deeply unsettled, myself.

I don't have the time, the energy, the vision, or the hope to launch a major initiative to push for better education. When I'm feeling discouraged, I want to focus inwardly, on what I can change, and avoid the nasty big world where the battles are long and hard. My temptation is to slink away and nurse my wounds, recovering quietly in a safe corner where I can pretend that it'll all be okay eventually.


However, I can't lick my wounds forever. I licked them last night, and again for a while this morning. Then it occurred to me that while I'm busy recovering I can send an email to my senator telling him my thoughts about where he's off base That doesn't take long. It isn't hard. It might help matters, and it might not -- but it's better than nothing. For me, life in general is almost always one little bit better if I do even one little thing about big things that bother me. You, too?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Why I live in the big city

  1. I'd rather see and smell the homeless than forget about them.
  2. Life would be boring if everyone looked like me.
  3. I don't have to drive. Ever.
  4. By middle school my kids can take themselves wherever they need to go.
  5. Each year I discover neighborhoods I've never seen, and people I never imagined existed.
  6. Bumping into people in the grocery/playground/subway is much easier than always having to plan to see them.
  7. Our library is enormous.
  8. Free summer concerts, fabulous parks, incredible museums.
  9. I can give up trying to keep up with the Joneses: their monthly rent equals my annual housing bill.
  10. Learning to get along gets bumped way up on the priority queue when you're living on top of each other.
I also like having a giveaway table in the laundry room (it's our own Freecycle), groceries around the corner, a neighborhood playground where the world congregates, having friends of different ages, Chinatown, and good Art Deco buildings.

    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    Benign thoughts

    I learned a new word yesterday: costochondritis. According to the Mayo Clinic, it's "an inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone (sternum)" and it commonly mimics heart attacks in its symptoms. That's what woke me early Monday morning, and this morning, too. It's disconcerting and quite painful, but it's also benign, and benign is a lovely word.

    I wonder what percentage of the things we worry about are benign.

    I wonder how many of our upsets, irritations, and bruised-ego moments are benign... until we react to them.

    I looked up benign (because that's the sort of person I am) and was surprised to find that the definition that's related to pathology is #5 on the list. All the positive definitions -- having a kindly disposition, showing gentleness, propitious, salubrious -- came first. It's kind of encouraging in this day and age, actually. Then we arrive at Benign: not malignant; self-limiting.

    Self-limiting. For my chest pain, that means that no damage is being done to anything else. It is what it is, and that's all that it is.

    Imagine if we thought of our irritations and other upsets that way.

    Friday, February 4, 2011

    Emergency room insights, Round II

    I spent another day at the ER yesterday. Snuggler has had abdominal pain off and on for a week, and Thursday morning it didn't get better with Tylenol and had moved to the lower right quadrant. I am not a worrier when it comes to medical things, but I don't mess with potential appendicitis. I'd rather have a long wait and find out it was a false alarm than sit at home hoping things improve.

    It's weird to go to an ER twice in a week, once as the patient and once as the parent. When you are there for someone else, your own feelings take a back seat to handling the situation. It's triage at its best:
    1. Things to do? Check -- wait over there.
    2. Worry or fear? Check -- go to that corner. 
    3. Child needs help? Check -- come right in. Let's take care of that right away.
    It's almost refreshing to be on an autopilot for putting someone else first.

    On the other hand, watching someone else's suffering is no picnic, especially when there's not much you can do about it other than exude serenity and confidence. That near-helplessness, and the related desire to be able to do something, remind me that sometimes the job at hand is simply to be.

    For many years I wondered about that odd interchange between Moses and God, in which Moses asks, "When they ask who sent me, what shall I say?" and God answers with the enigmatic, "I AM who I AM. Tell them 'I AM' sent you."

    Yeah, what's that all about? It took being a mother for me to grasp at a visceral level that 'I am' is a form of the verb 'to be'. What God was saying was that he was the essence and source of what it means to be. Similarly, I am Julia... and my job is to be Julia. I am to be as Julia as God created me to be. I'm to discovered and uncover what the essence of Julia-ness is, and to live it fully. What it means to be Julia-who-is-now-a-mother is different from what it meant to be just Julia-who-is-married.

    On the days we sit next to someone suffering in a hospital bed and can do nothing, we are asked to simply be with that person with all our being. Far from nothing, it's everything. In the Venn diagram of life, who we are is bigger than what we do.

    Snuggler arrived home at 4am, after finally getting into the MRI and finally getting negative results. She's sleeping as I write, grimacing in her dreams, still in pain from who knows what. But for the second time this week we've ruled out something dangerous, and I am grateful that she is here. In fact, I can shorten that and say I'm grateful that she is.

    Wednesday, February 2, 2011

    Battery-powered parenting

    When Eldest was a preschooler she hated green pepper. She refused to eat anything containing it. I told her, "Don't worry. When you're a big girl your tastes will change. Some kids don't like green pepper until they're, oh, seven or something!"

    And indeed, one day when she was about five Eldest announced that she liked green pepper after all.

    I don't always do things that well. There are days when I look at a melting-down child and sputter, "Kids your age don't have tantrums any more!" It doesn't work.

    In my mind I carry a picture of a battery-powered toy that rolls along the floor until it bumps into something. Then it backs off, and tries a different angle. It keeps on trying new approaches until it finds the one that allows it to move on. I'm not sure if this toy really exists or not, but the image of it is my model for parenting. You look at a problem and try approach A. When that doesn't work,  you try approach B. And so on, and so on, and so on, and so on, until something works.

    Of course, when we face the same frustration repeatedly there's a weird brain thing that happens which deludes us into thinking that our strategy isn't working because we haven't made ourselves clear. My worst failing like this is what I call The Rant. The Rant relies on volume and emphasis and a never-ending loop of the same complaint in sixteen variations. There are certain Rants that could probably take place around here even if I weren't at home. The hit, "When Are You Going to Learn to Pick Up After Yourself?" probably tops the list.

    When I find myself Ranting too much, it's time to back off and shut up. Ranting is a sign that I am too frustrated and need more detachment in order to solve the problem. It's as if my battery-powered parenting toy is jammed and hammering the same spot repeatedly. It needs to back up -- way up -- and reset.

    For the problem with Ranting is that it aims at behavior and hits a child in the soul instead. It bellows, "You should feel bad about yourself!" Children will oblige you by hearing this, but not in the way you hope. They will hear that Mom is disappointed in them, that they are for some reason unlovable. The message that they need to change their ways gets lost in the emotional noise.

    Right now I've placed myself on a two-week Rant diet from the Picking Up After Yourself issue. Deep in my heart I know (can you hear me kicking and screaming as I dredge up the unhappy truth?) that if I really want to solve this problem it's going to take consistent, unremitting supervision. In other words, I am going to have to do some work. But that's usually the case when a parenting approach isn't working. It's the parent who has to change direction first.

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    Emergency room insights

    I spent yesterday in the ER, reading The Great Divorce: A Nineteenth-Century Mother's Extraordinary Fight against Her Husband, the Shakers, and Her Times and observing life. There is a lot of life to observe in an emergency room.

    The little woman with the droopy eye, who was convinced that the reason she'd collapsed in the bathroom and her muscles weren't working was because she'd eaten canned salmon. She spoke entirely in Spanish, assuming I'd understand her. I was glad that I did.

    The young man who translated for his dad, who was there because of stroke-like symptoms and heart problems and high blood pressure and diabetes. To hear the 20-something son speak about his failing father was a beautiful thing. "Before his stroke he was strong, direct, unafraid of anything..." he said to the doctors, calm and proud. Gently he helped his dad follow the directions for the neuro tests for balance and strength. He was a good and loving son.

    The man with kidney stones -- huge ones -- who lay patiently on a gurney for eight hours, without complaining except to say quietly to me, "This hurts me a lot". He's having surgery on Wednesday.

    The silent, elderly woman next to me, in for abdominal pain, who after seven hours had yet to be seen by a doctor. I encouraged her to speak up, and she stood by the nurses' station for ten minutes and no one paid her any attention. When I went to nag my doctor, I told the attending physician about her situation. I wondered what had happened -- or hadn't happened -- in her life to make her so passive.

    Me, I'd gone in after searing chest pain early yesterday morning. The pain disappeared, and according to my Google search didn't seem to be heart trouble, but I knew I'd better get it checked. So I was there without pain or major fear, and part of me wondered why. And then I remembered that life isn't always about me, and when in doubt I can always do something for others. Perhaps the point of my presence was simply that all those worried, sick people needed my prayers. It was a fine way to fill the time.

    This morning I hold images in my mind of the muscular young man with dreadlocks who was wailing like a baby; of the fretful Irishwoman with neuralgia; of the young man swaggering, handcuffed, through the ward in his gown; of the pregnant nurse from endocrinology with heart trouble. It's doubtful I will ever see any of these people again, yet for one day their lives intersected with mine.

    Often we're so busy and focused on ourselves that we don't pay attention to the ways our paths cross the paths of others. Yet those intersections (and our response to them) help shape who were are.

    My heart is in beautiful shape, my lungs are healthy. My discharge sheet says Chest Pain, Unspecified, because there's not an insurance code for "we don't honestly know what happened". As long as the doctors have ruled out things of potentially-fatal significance, I am content to live with the mystery.

    There's an awful lot we don't know about life. There's a lot we know and foolishly discard. There are people who cross paths with us whose lives we change, for better or worse, knowingly or not. Sometimes we can focus on this person or that a little more than we might have, and that's a good thing.

    Today's resolution: to spend an extra 30 seconds appreciating or praying for someone who I'll never see again. Try it.