Monday, May 14, 2012

Up the Water Spout

I am re-reading Robert Fulghum’s book All I really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten. Every cheery, soulful essay resonates and makes my nose prickle with near-tears. Be fair, be kind, clean up your own mess, and when you go out into the world, hold hands and stick together. Fulghum muses about how different the world would be if more people and governments lived by the lessons of childhood.

Another chapter humorously reports a neighbor’s encounter with a spider web and the resulting horror, shrieks and fright. Fulghum imagines the equally terrified spider and recalls that kindergarten favorite, “The Eensy Weensy Spider.” What a plucky lass, that undaunted arachnid, to dry off and try again every time the rain washes her down the water spout.

These upbeat essays have been part of my morning self-cheerleading regimen during a difficult stretch: I miss my Dad, my mother-in-law was hospitalized with pneumonia, and Dave totaled his car on I-95.

After Dad died in January, I wasn’t just sad, I was also fragile. A friend observed that when her father died, she came to see an added value to the old tradition of wearing black: not only was it a sign of respect for the dead, but it also showed others that one was grieving and might need greater gentleness. I get that. People who know about Dad have been so dear, dear in a way that I have not been for others. Until my father died, I did not realize, exactly, what it means to lose a parent, this person who is woven into so many memories, into the very person one has turned out to be.

Then, while sitting in the doctor’s office with my mother-in-law before taking her to the hospital, this fragile Lea received Dave’s call about his accident. Surreptitiously, I took deep breaths and thought, “What would a grown-up do?” I am a daughter who has lost her father, and fifty-nine or not, my grown-up self remains an elusive person who has not reliably established herself as a solid pillar. Once, along with my mother, Dad was that pillar. Dave stepped in a while back to help fill the role.

Every day as he heads out the door for his commute, my husband promises me he will drive carefully. He is a cautious driver, owns a Volvo, and I like to think the Universe watches over him and honors what should be his unbreachable encircling wall of good karma. Following Dad’s death, though, I’ve been poignantly aware of mortality, and this accident shook me. Dave was not hurt, but he could have been, and I have worked hard to eliminate that possibility from my mind.

In fact, I was bearing up well in the wake of these setbacks, sustained by others’ kindness and reassured by my unexpected ability to deal with hard times. Stronger than I thought, I’d reflected. Wishful thinking.

Early on Friday, the day after Dave’s accident and his mother’s admittance to Bridgeport Hospital, I got a call about a cell tower proposal. A company in Danbury thought a strip of land about 400 feet from our 1782 house-in-the-woods was the perfect site for a monopole. Across the swamp and up the rise, just over the old stone wall, it would be plainly visible from our backyard. What would the deer, turkeys, songbirds, and frogs make of this? Would they leave, the woods becoming silent and still but for the hum of the tower’s machinery?

My home was under attack, but I wasn’t sure I would be able to find the energy to do this – go to town hall to review cell tower regulations, rally neighbors, attend meetings, and protect my house.

Casey, my twenty-nine year-old daughter, was on her way to the gym, but decided to stay when she saw my stricken expression. Upon hearing of the tower, she was enraged, as much by the effect on her mother as the tower itself. “It won’t happen, Mom. I will stand before them, tell them about your cancer, and that will sway them…I tell you, it won’t happen. You’ll see.” She stood straight, tall, young, imposing, my warrior princess. She folded me in her arms…and I sobbed. When she left for work, I went to bed, curled up under a quilt, and wept.

Over that weekend, we received calls from friends who had read about the tower in the newspaper. Just as my daughter had, they offered help, hands to hold out in the world. Dave came home from work in his bright red rental, a snappy FIAT Cinque-Cento. We had lentil soup, cheese bread, and wine for dinner, and watched funny movies. It is amazing what a difference fuel makes; fuel for the body, fuel for the spirit.

On Friday afternoon, I’d been a pathetic lump on my bed in the dark. By Monday, I was the spider, dried off, buoyed, and on my way to town hall.