Friday, July 27, 2007

Good Night

“The last good night's sleep you’ll have is the night before your first child is born.” I laughed at the woman who told me that. I was eight months pregnant at the time with our first child and thought she was daft. What did she know anyway? Her three boys were teenagers. One had just gotten his driver’s license. Of course she was freaked. When her youngest left for college, I was certain she’d sleep soundly once again. However, my plan to confirm that belief never materialized. We moved back to Chicago and lost touch with each other. Besides, if we had stayed connected, she'd have had the last laugh on me. I haven’t had a really solid, devil may care, snooze until 11 in the morning sleep for the last forty years. Any hope of regaining such a night was abandoned long ago.

“Before I had children, no one told me how completely absorbed I’d become in my children’s lives,” a friend told me as we talked about our children, past dreams and unrealized expectations. “You’re only as happy as your unhappiest child.”

I had to agree. The odds that all of our children will be in a great place, or even a good place, at the same time are 1000 to 1. Not that either of us would change anything. We love our children and grandchildren, the texture of our lives, the chaos and the tumult. Most days, she paints, I write. But if the phone rings and we hear heartache and struggle at the other end, it’s hard to focus on the work when all we really want to do is drop everything and rescue our child. We listen, offer advice, hang up, worry, consider packing a suitcase and catching the next flight, reject that idea, search for a cheerful gift on the internet, drink another cup of coffee, then call back to see if she, or he, feels any better.

I’m sure there are those who can snap their cell phone shut and get back to work. I’m just not one of them. Neither is my friend. The aftermath of those miserable moments is that she stares at the canvas and I turn off my laptop. What’s the point? We just wish that years ago we knew, on the deepest level, that we’d never return to the carefree place that existed the night before our first child was born. That was before and this is after and there’s no magical return ticket available.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Day by Day

Some days. . .

Black clouds swarm above my head. The weight of ALS bears down with a force so huge it takes my breath away. I have to wrench myself free, force myself to do something, anything, that will let in the fresh air. I’ve become difficult, I know, when I’m terrified and want only to stay in bed, under the covers and sleep forever.

But on other days. . .

I let optimism rule. I believe we will overcome these terrible circumstances. I project into the future and imagine Ben physically vibrant the way he was years ago when I drove him to the airport for his third year as a college exchange student in Paris, France. He hoisted a huge duffel over his shoulder as if it weighed a few pounds, kissed my cheek and was gone. When we visited him four months later, he’d already made dozens of friends who called out ‘Binyamin’ as they waved him into their lives. Ben lived in an apartment, a boat, then someone’s loft, while he studied Decontructionism, a difficult philosophy to comprehend in English, let alone, French.
He traveled throughout Europe that summer, visited friends from the states in each country, slept on the floors of their rented rooms. Ben returned in September, packed a few belongings into a pickup truck and drove to California to film, act and write. My wish for him to complete his degree at Indiana University vanished, replaced by the hope he wouldn’t lose his way in the West Coast jungle. I needn’t have worried.
In the early morning light, I soothe the ache with childhood memories of Ben, our independent, resilient little guy, who always found his way home without bread crumbs or pebbles in his pockets. Baseball season brought Little League tryouts. Ben practiced in the backyard for weeks before the big day. Having seen his wild throws and fumbled catches at more than a few softball games, I feared he wouldn’t make the team but said nothing, hoping for a miracle as we drove to the field. Tension mounted as parents vacated the premises until noon. Prepared for a rough afternoon, I returned, shocked to find Ben part of The Optimist team, managed by two brothers who wisely valued heart above skill.
When I look at Ben now, he’s still all heart. His spirit and drive pull me from under the covers. He’s the same strong, self assured human being who made the team, traveled the distance, proved his mettle. He’s a brilliant filmmaker, a wise guy, a funny man, a sensitive soul. Who else but such a person could construct a magnificent life from so much anguish and create a legacy of the magnitude of Indestructible. More than a thousand people gave Ben a standing ovation at the Cinequest Film Festival, in awe of his contribution. Ben, beaming in his wheelchair, reminded me of a favorite quotation by Thomas Edison. “Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.”

Postscript: I've been swamped preparing for a writer's workshop in Iowa. This article is a reprint from the Indestructible Newsletter Website that appeared in May.
I'll be back soon.