Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Wild Things

My seven-year-old grandson and I went to see the new movie Where the Wild Things Are, based on the children's book by Maurice Sendak. We had read the book together before, so I thought that this would be a nice thing for just the two of us to do.

We got our popcorn trays with small drink and little bag of gummy fruit candy, and went to our seats. I had to use my Swiss Army Knife to open the bag of fruity candy, but other than that we settled in for a great show.

The film starts out in Max's neighborhood. Max, for me, was a little too tall and a bit too angst-ridden for the character in the book. He loses snowball fights with the other kids and seems out of place in his own home. But eventually he does get to cross the water to where the wild things are. Now, things will get interesting, I thought.

Well, the Wild Things were great. They looked like they had just walked off the pages of the book. But then they started to talk. Such morose musings.

I glanced at my grandson who seemed more interested in his popcorn than the movie. Usually he laughs and thoroughly enjoys children's movies, but not this time. The little children behind us were getting squirmy. The whole theater seemed let down. Perhaps the problem is that the film was written more for the amusement of the writers than for children. It was their imagination that we got to see, what they imagined went on where the wild things are. In the book, the child gets to make up the story of what happens once the wild rumpus begins.

Even with children's literature, sometimes the book is better than the movie.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Matter of Life and Death

When I was expecting the birth of my first son thirty some years ago, I took Lamaze classes to learn what to expect. I was facing my fears about this unknown passage. My kind then-husband agreed to be my coach, and he sat on the floor with all of the huffing and puffing pregnant women. The classes helped to allay my fears by teaching stage by stage what would happen during a healthy labor—including “transition” when my coach claims that I growled at him and said, “Don’t you Lamaze me.” He backed away from the labor bed and handed me off to the anesthesiologist with the epidural.

All was well and our beautiful son was born, scoring a 10 on the Apgar Scale.

Now death is the unknown passage that I am facing. Not imminently, so far as I know, but for sure. At age 61, it is becoming clearer to me that it will happen to me, too, and to people I love. No one gets out alive. Yet, there haven’t been any classes to teach me what to expect.

Until this morning. A series started in the adult Sunday school at my church devoted to “A Matter of Life and Death;” and the speaker today was The Rev. Dan Hall, M. D., who is an ordained minister and a surgeon. He has seen dying up close. I have never been with anyone going through that passage. My experience of the death of a loved one is that it occurred out of sight, neatly hospitalized.

He talked about matters such as palliative and hospice care and the importance of a health care power-of-attorney. Then he not so much segued but leaped to the question on my mind, “so what happens?” In compassionate but clear terms, he described a typical death, a death with some notice. He described the somnolence and confusion that often occurs as one is dying. Then he both described and demonstrated the labored breathing, pausing for an alarmingly long time after a series of shallow breaths. These Cheyne-Stokes breaths have been identified by and named for two doctors. I was learning a new vocabulary for a part of life that in my circle is rarely discussed. I learned about the Apgar scale and mucous plugs back in my childbearing years; I can begin to learn this lexicon of death now.

Dr. Hall answered questions from the audience about feeding tubes and electrolyte abnormalities, as well as a query about biblical guidance and the disposition of the body. However, my mind lingered back there on the breaths. Though the course of dying would vary widely, there is apparently a breathing pattern that is predictable enough to have a name. I am looking forward to learning more about this discourse of dying. That is not as maudlin as it may sound. There is something comforting in being able to come to terms with death.

Though I thanked him after church, I doubt that the good doctor had any idea how he had evoked a private sigh, an internal small step forward in me.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Blossom and Wood

"Praise and Thanksgiving" is an old hymn, sung to the tune of "Morning Has Broken" by Cat Stevens:

Praise and thanksgiving, Father we offer, for all things living, created and good:

Harvest of sown fields,
Fruits of the orchard,
Hay from the mown fields,
Blossom and wood.

Text: Albert F. Bayly b. 1901
Tune: Gaelic

I sat in church debating how to spend a beautiful October afternoon. There were student papers to grade, and a chicken that was nearing its expiration date that needed to be cooked. Yet, there was also the Wildflower Reserve at Raccoon Creek State Park. I let the hymn tip the scale.

I wanted to rest my eyes on something far away--not a computer screen, or the page of a book, or my apartment walls.

Driving and dragging my mental feet, I kept thinking of all the reasons that I should not take the time to look at wildflowers. About a third of the way there, I took a deep breath, a sigh really. I don't know where it came from, but from then on things got better.

Along Route 30, Janoski's Farm Market was busy with families bent on picking their own pumpkins. On down the road, familiar turns and hills led up to the wooden sign telling where to turn in for the Wildflower Reserve.

It was pretty quiet. Once in a while an airplane flew high overhead, reminding me that the airport is not far away. But then the peace settled in again and I was alone with the stalks of dried flowers swaying in the breeze.

October is an odd time to visit the Wildflower trails. The Queen Anne's Lace was turning beige and crinkling around the edges. A reed bent down, looking the way I feel sometimes. The underbrush provided some yellow leaves, traces of green not entirely gone for good. It is a quiet time of year: not summer anymore, not winter yet.

There is a sense of just being, for the time being.  Autumn is enough, and it's beautiful.

I walked around and around the same trail, the one I knew, not wanting to get isolated on an unfamiliar path. A few people came, grandparents with two small children. I followed them a while.  Maybe next time, I'll take a new trail.

A few hundred feet down the road is the entrance to Raccoon Creek State Park. I drove through the park under a canopy of gold.  

Take the time.

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