Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Home In Time for Lima Beans

Colby and Craig got back from the hospital yesterday. It was a long week there for them, and a long week here at home for us without them. The kids were literally ecstatic to see each other again. They stood in front of each other and screamed in high pitched, mono syllabic greetings interspersed with laughter. Their broad open smiles like huge slices of peaches, shiney and sweet. Colby stomped her foot and Coral stomped hers back. Craig and I tried to kiss, but we were laughing so deeply watching the girls that we could just lean on each other in embrace, tears down our cheeks.

At dinner we talked about the hospital, Craig told me about the families they'd met this time. It is a stunning sort of connection you make in the hospital. The families we have connected with over the years are people we have never spoken with again but feel extremely close to, they become part of the fabric of our family's prayers, we send them love and hope when they cross our minds, they enter our mythology of survival, we draw on their stories, the strength of their hearts when we feel weak.

The hallway is where many of these piercing connections with families happen. When you have a break from being "plugged in" to your IV or your EEG, there is only the square track of the hallway, the nurses station in the center, to wander. Craig told us about the little two year old with cancer who loved to run. Every few hours Craig would hear a clamor and see the boy fly by the doorway, gown flapping, IV poles careening behind him, then his grandmother and mother, chasing, alarmed but familiar with the chase.

On Colby's last day, when at last she could run around, there was teenaged girl and her father that they passed several times on the hallway circuit. After the third pass, they stopped and talked. Craig did not go into detail about their conversation, but about the feeling that passed between them. The kids, toddlers to teenagers, in the pediatric wards have a grace and an elegance about them. Maybe it is the studied, measured carriage that physical pain requires, but I think it is also something more internal. Even the youngest seem to have glimpsed at the mortality of self in a way that you simply cannot see without being there yourself.

The parents, they carry the bravery, the bottomless sadness, the awareness of loss, and their hope and faith. Both parent and child are present in a way, and that presence feels different in each. Perhaps that is why the connections go so through the layers of niceties and straight into your heart, there is no tuning out here. You are alive. Tired, bedraggled, overwhelmed, but alive. And you look, you gaze with absolute clarity at how it is that this other family, this other child and parent, are doing it, how is it that they are shouldering their burden, how is it that they are finding beauty. In the stark realism of the hospital, there is grace, elegance, bravery, sadness, awareness of loss, hope and faith. And the beauty of love: when you see it, it shines.

As we talked we ate a succotash and rice. Craig had needed the slow, methodical, simple work of the kitchen. He peeled a mountain of Lima beans, just arriving in season; scraped corn off the cob, and diced the carrots, onions, and leeks; all cooked in the slow, glistening fat of slab bacon cut into cubes. A sprinkle of thinly sliced basil on top before serving. The combination was colorful and textural: the earthy, interior flavor of fresh Lima's, the sweet corn and carrots, salty bacon. Served with simple white rice.

It was the mixture itself, one flavor against, or with, another that made the dinner delicious. The salty and the sweet, the interior and the flowering. As it is in the hospital, and in life, in love with each other, and in love with our kids: the bottomless sadness when faced with loss is born of the enormity of our love; our interior hopes become the grace that carries us through the world.

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