Sunday, September 11, 2011

Keeping Vigil

You have a memory.

You were in a place.

Getting ready for work, eating breakfast, driving. You were watching the Today Show, listening to NPR, sitting in class. You were in an airport, on a plane. You were in the office, you were sending your kids to school.

And then, in the quotidian momentum of a day where the sun was pushing you forward into the familiar steps of a Tuesday morning, you stood still.

Something was happening that began to wrap its cold grip around your lungs until you felt the absence of your breath and the absence of your hallowed American security. Something had made a hole in our impregnable United States.

You own your memory of that moment. There are many millions of them; that moment when we learned of the planes that were plowing through the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, into the soil of Pennsylvania. A surreal pause in the spinning of things.

This morning, on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 I am listening to the memorial service at Ground Zero in New York City. For the past two hours they have read the names of those who died that morning. Each giver of the names is a loved one of the deceased. They read several names then offer a message to their own beloved who was lost.

They are young, those reading the names. Some of them too young.
No, that little boy could not have been alive on that day. He cannot possibly own one of those where-you-were-what-you-were-doing memories that the rest of us have. And indeed he was not.

"Sebastian Gorky," this little boy says into the microphone. "Who I never met because I was in my Mom's belly. I love you, Dad."

So many fatherless.

"Winston Arthur Grant - My father; a good, kind, godly man."
"Geoffrey Hike Hardy - Dad, I'm still learning to cook. I'm working on it. We miss you."
"Joseph Gridlack - His physical presence and bushy mustache are missed. Semper Fi. I hope you dance."
"James Patrick Ladley - Dad, your guiding hand on my shoulder will stay with me forever."


I remember a blue and empty sky
For so many days
My empty sky
This was our fear - our almost . . .
Such determination to deny that we are changed
But who can look into this empty sky and think
We are not afraid of you
Our lips so close to calling the bluff
Something has changed
Something . . .

The Jewish have a tradition whereby they do not leave the body of a dead person to be alone from the time the spirit departs to the time the body is buried in the earth.
September 11th left so many bodies - not even bodies - remnants. Unidentifiable.
The young Jewish women of local Stern College kept vigil with those remnants for seven months while DNA testing was done to identify remains for internment. They were girls, students, who set up rotations such that no possibly Jewish body was left unattended, day or night, for seven months.

All of it; the terror, the death the heroism, the colossal waste, the fear, the empty skies, tells me to keep vigil with the people God grants me as loved ones in this fragile mortality. Day and night, for years on end, I stay close to the living bodies of those that breathe in my house.

What do you remember? What have you learned?

And consider participating in this project.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Even Sick Babies Are Perfect

Not even a year old and our little Ewan is facing the pharmaceutical regimen of an octogenarian.

My Friend Jackie and I both have four children. The last two (mine and hers) were born three days apart from each other. She and I have many times sat in the unladylike manner of two women very large with child and spoken of the charmed and bless-ed nature of our lives thus far. Though neither of us inclined to pessimism, we mutually admitted a growing sense of dread that with each child we add to our family there is a greater likelihood for tragedy - or hardship - illness- death - disease - something that doesn't feel quite so easy as a healthy newborn.

And newborns are SO easy.

Her fourth was born early and spent a fair bit of time in the NICU while she went back and forth from home to hospital trying to mother all of them in her postpartum delirium. Except Jackie doesn't actually suffer from delirium, or anything like unto weakness. She's kind of like the female Chuck Norris - you know, her tears cure cancer. It's just too bad she never cries.

I wanted to help her family while she was jockeying this trial, but as luck would have it my own very pregnant body was in the throws of a painful and protracted prodromal labor. And I am no Chuck Norris so I mostly kept to my bed.

Plus it was Jackie's fault because she fed us barbecued garlic chicken which produced nearly identical results just over two years before. Wives and husbands talked and laughed and ate more garlic than is healthy for intimacy of any kind. Kids played in the sandbox - then badda bing - Jackie's got a baby by morning and my Cecily comes three days later. 26 months later we do the whole routine over again - barbecued garlic chicken, badda bing, Jackie's baby by morning and my Ewan three days later.

Ewan came healthy. Ewan came big - 8 pounds, 10 ounces. He ate fine, he smiled, he slept, he grew, then he stopped growing. For five months Ewan not only gained no weight, but lost 10 ounces. He was diagnosed Failure to Thrive, which in medical mumbo jumbo is really just code for "this child has . . . ?????"

After many tests, including a full endoscopy at Primary Children's Hospital where I saw his pretty, pink insides we got more than a question mark.

"Eosinophilic esophagitis" said the very kind and hurried pediatric gastroenterologist on the phone just a week before we left Salt Lake City for a new home on the east coast. "Pick up this prescription, give it to him once a day, and good luck out there."

I gave it to him. He woke up. Ewan had a latent personality that emerged when suddenly his pain was suppressed and he could EAT. He gained five pounds in two months - which still leaves him soundly off-the-chart-small, but it is better than wasting away to nothing.

We finished Ewan's meds two weeks ago and I was feeling a bit liberated until we saw a new pediatric gastroenterologist last week. He sent me home with a new phrase - "chronic disease", and a slew of new meds that I have been afraid to start because they are so many and so specific in their requirements that I need a detailed chart of when and how much and before or after food and gargling with water to prevent thrush after this one.
Cause every one-year-old can gargle.

I'm pretty hopeless with a medically pedestrian round of antibiotics. Administering medication of any kind with consistency is for sick people - not me. But my son is sick, all 17 pounds of him, all 12 months of him, all the cherubic yumminess of him is chronically sick. I am the only person on this earth that will make sure that his mouth is rinsed out after taking budesonide to avoid an oral yeast infection. I have to do it.

So there it is - my diminishing returns on the ability to produce procreative perfection indefinitely. It is my "tragedy" which, for reasons unknown, seems more frightening at night when every one else has gone to sleep and I am left to eat massive helpings of worry all by myself.

My Mom pointed out to me today how lucky we are it is not something worse.
"It could be so much worse" she said.
"It could be," I agreed.
She was right. There was my little boy smiling at me, trusting that, come bed time, I would rinse his mouth out after the budesonide.
And I did.