A Flower After a Storm
Yesterday I listened to two very distraught people. My friend Jody whose wife died after the horrific journey of dying from cancer is now alone after 62 years of marriage and he is at loose ends. He cried and it was hard, but I found was truly there in the moment with empathy. My guess is maybe I am doing a little better sometimes at getting out of me because I felt drained (and inadequate).
Not 10 minutes later my friend, unofficial adopted daughter, called me from her hospital bed in anguish and tears. She suffered from bacterial meningitis untreated for 9 days. It is a very painful condition — she passed out a few times during the ordeal. Her husband had taken her to our local small rural town ER 2 times and small-town clinic once, most days during a record-breaking ice storm. Her story includes fleeing abject poverty from Mexico over 20 years ago, being hard working and law abiding in the U.S. and seeing her son join the US Army just 9 months ago. Small town rural hospitals and clinics are as a generalization limited. The big city medical facility 45 miles away is more of just a “machine” and impersonal and in desperation her husband took her there and that saved her life. They did full testing. They found the bacterial meningitis. The attending doctor said another day and she would have been dead. That was 6 days ago, and she is still in the hospital. I picked her two kids up from school yesterday. She called and was weeping and wondering why this had all happened.
These two emotional interactions left me feeling fairly in despair myself.
I dreamed last night I was working for a business that was heartless. I was part of a boiler room staff whose job was to read articles submitted for a magazine and write a synopsis for the editorial review. It was a sweat shop and if a staff worker did not read enough stories for a day and write the corresponding synopsis the managers were ruthless and took glee in firing people. I wanted to do the hopeful authors justice and carefully read their work — but I could barely get through my quota. I had decided to quit and live like a near homeless person as in my dream I had just enough money saved for a small cabin, food, and a small piece of land.
This morning I came across a Kurt Vonnegut quote I like a lot. It is the flower of this article and I am sharing it — like a fresh flower after a bad storm. Kurt is a famous author. His mother committed suicide in 1944 just before as a soldier he went to Germany and was then captured at the Battle of the Bulge. He was in boxcar of American POWs mistakenly fired on by the US Army Air Force killing fellow prisoners by friendly fire. Held in a meat locker at Dresden as a POW he was there after it was savagely fire bombed and he had to dig and recover burned bodies out for days. After the war he suffered a lot of losses till finally in 1960s he achieved success as an author.
“When I was 15, I spent a month working on an archeological dig. I was talking to one of the archeologists one day during our lunch break and he asked those kinds of “getting to know you” questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What is your favorite subject? And I told him, no I do not play any sports. I do theater, I am in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes.
And he went WOW. That is amazing! And I said, “Oh no, but I’m not any good at ANY of them.”
And he said something then that I will never forget, and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: “I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.”
And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who had not been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could “Win” at them.”
- Kurt Vonnegut. h/t Anna Macedo