Thursday, December 13, 2007

Three miracles: Men, homes, freedom, friendship

It's funny what happens at Christmas.At the time when days are shortest, when light becomes scarce and, therefore, more precious, miracles arrive. No wonder the early Christians decided to borrow this festival of "the coming of the light" from the Pagans to celebrate the birth of their savior.

In "fact", historians tell us, Jesus was born under the sign of Pisces, just before Spring--which would have been just as good a time to celebrate his birthday. But the symbolic resonance available in linking His arrival with the return of the light was too good to resist. Plus, it helped dispose of those pesky Pagans, still hanging around.)

This year, I am amazed--and deeply grateful--to report three miracles:

The first two involve the themes of the year: Home and Fathers and the Freedom to Choose. Readers of this blog will know that this year has been all about the moving, packing, buying and selling of homes. It has also, for me and my family, been about Dad.

For Dad, it's been about finally acknowledging that he was too disabled to stay in the little room at the top of Laura's stairs and to make the untenable but necessary choice to move to a nursing care facility. Once there, it was about adapting to the idea that his new "home" was precisely the sort of place he'd railed against in his career as Self-Advocacy Coordinator for United Cerebral Palsy and more recently, ACLD (Adults and Children Living with Disabilities).

It meant adapting to hospital-like rotation of nursing staff, aides and social services workers, and the constant noise and interruption of televisions blaring from every room and in the public spaces. It also meant living with a roommate who, thoug he was charming and delightful, was becoming increasingly demanding, controlling and exhausting. As the 80-something roommates got to know each other, and as the roommate's condition worsened, his dependence on Dad increased until, during my last visit, I could see it was taking a toll on Dad's health--and had, I realized, probably caused Dad's shingles--a very painful inflammation of the nerve endings, triggered by stress.

So I called his social worker.And though she told me it would be a long wait, somehow, in that way that things always work out as they're supposed to, she called me a few days later to say: I pulled some strings and got your father a private room in a quiet area with a picture window view of the Hudson River. The halls are carpeted, there's a hush in the air. It's nice. I think your father will love it. So do I.

I reported the second miracle, also involving Home and Fathers and freedom, in a previous post...It was about how, when Emily's father was called "home", he died doing something he loved doing, surrounded by friends, living life his way. As I learned more about this remarkable man, I was touched by Emily and her sister's description of the beautiful community he'd chosen as his home. The uncanny parallels in the lives of Dad and Emily's father, Steve, how against the concerns and protests of doctors, family members and friends, each had chosen to live out of their freedom. For Steve, this meant living his life to the edge of its fullness, in spite of his weakened heart. For Dad, it meant, as it has always meant, mobility.

Ever since he struggled to his feet at age five, Dad, born with Cerebral Palsy, has been moving. From the two-year long quest to get his driver's license to his more recent fight to keep his car keys, he simply won't give up. When I was 18, as he drove me to college, I still remember Dad telling me, "I always wanted to be a truck driver. To drive and drive all day, every day."

Dad loves moving, loves wheels. He loves it from a place deep in his soul. I suspect that, when Dad goes, he will go dreaming of (or actually having) wheels under his butt all the way.

Finally, our third miracle, which amazingly, also involves fathers, a home and freedom. The fathers are my husband, Matthew; and Tom, who, along with his 22-year-old son, is living in the home that my family is about to purchase. Though I don't have time to chronicle every detail of this miracle (I promise I will soon) I will summarize: We were about to sign a contract for a house we didn't really like when my daughter walked by and saw Tom's "For Sale" sign and she called me on my cell phone and I called the number she read to me from the sign and left a message. About a week later, I stepped into the house and fell in love with it--and with its inhabitants. When I showed it to Matthew I never expected him to like it, we have very different taste (his, more modern, mine, more cosy, country). But (and here is the miracle) he loved it, and with tears in his eyes, the man who took a year and a half to make a decision on the other house, said, "Make an offer." And we did, and Tom accepted it... and here we go.

Like all miracles, this one is not "simple". It affects us--and Tom's family--in many ways, bringing us their friendship, and with it new dreams. We will have a fresh canvas to paint on, a new community to meet--Tom and his son will be free now, to make their next steps. It's a beautiful story, perfect for Christmas. For just as we come into the darkest time of the year, here comes the light.

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