The decision is almost already
made. I want to build another boat. I am pretty sure I already
know which boat I want to make.
But I want to think this through.
Not so much like a pro and con list, I think I already know
enough reasons not to build a boat, and I can certainly think
of enough reasons not to build the boat I am dreaming of. .
I think I want to find enough reasons to say yes.
Two quotes seem to fit..
"Heros take journeys, confront
dragons, and discover the treasure of their true selves. Although
they may feel very alone during the quest, at its end their
reward is a sense of community: with themselves, with other
people, and with the Earth. Every time we confront death-in-life
we confront a dragon, and every time we choose life over non-life
... we vanquish the dragon; we bring new life to ourselves and
our culture." Carol Pearson.
"Each man has inside him
a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on
it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs
most. It is not complicated, but it takes courage to listen
to his own inner goodness and act on it. Do we dare to be ourselves?
That is the question that counts" Pablo Casals.
Both quotes promise a better
world through our own actions. Simple actions in some ways.
Very difficult in others. Their rarity shows that.
Pearson promises an appreciation
for and connection with our world through personal challenge.
It is as though through awakening all our senses through personal
challenge, we awaken our sense to the beauty around us, in ourselves,
in others, and in nature.
Casals, the great cellist and
conductor, sees it more simply perhaps. We don't need a challenge
to awaken, we need simply to awaken. It is already within us.
There is no doubt both are true.
Perhaps one could argue both paths lead to the same destination,
but one is a shortcut. Is the shortcut the path with the least
or most obstacles?
Eleanor Roosevelt saw awakening
in life's stumbles. "You gain strength, and courage and
confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look
fear in the face".
We get that when we build a boat,
and it has certainly been true in my life.
My son had 11 operations by the
time he was 8 years old. He lost so much blood in one operation
they had to stop, the operation incomplete.
They were removing bone from
the outside of his skull, literally cutting a series of notches
into the skull and then knocking them off. Eventually they had
removed 9 pounds of bone from his head.
They made an incision across
the top of his head from ear to ear; they pulled his face away.
They started at his upper lip and re-sculpted his face and worked
their way back to just beyond his hairline. They then re-attached
his face and sewed his incision back up. The incisions just
above the ears were made in a zig-zag pattern in an effort to
allow them to be hidden by the re-growth of hair... eventually.,
but for now he was Frankenstein's monster.. my son.
The operation I remember most
was done to complete the effect. They cut the grooves, then
ground their way back, but the bone was so porous, so vascular,
they couldn't stop the bleeding. About a dozen units of blood
later the anesthesiologist called the operation. They were forced
to stop the bleeding by laying down a layer of wax over the
bone and then sealing him back up.
For the better part of a year
bits of wax would work their way to the surface. His head would
soften like a bruised apple, eventually bursting with fluids.
We would dab at it for days, changing bandages, and finally
picking out bits of wax. The wound would heal, but no hair would
grow there for the rest of his life. At school he was known
as the kid with the bandage on his head.
We spent days in Intensive care.
Intensive care is parent hell. Children die there. Whenever
something is going wrong in the intensive care unit all parents
are thrown out. Parents hover around the door to intensive care
waiting for the word that they can be with their children again.
One day Karen and I used the
opportunity to grab a bite to eat in the hospital cafeteria.
When we came back a young couple was in agony waiting by the
door for word on their baby. Their child was dying.
"Oh no, Oh no, Oh no.. what
are are we going to do. Oh my god".. the foundation of
their world destroyed forever. She collapsed to the floor, her
husband so enveloped in his own pain and fear he could not help
For many parents their children
have been in intensive care for months, and they literally live
in a hallway nearby, mats and fold down chairs and blankets
their beds, and each moment is like walking on thin ice.
Their sleep is punctuated by
a parent awakened with bad news. The cries of anguish, cries
from somewhere deep within, as though all horrors and possible
loss have suddenly exploded forth in one horrible moment.
But it isn't just a moment.
My son came back. Theirs did
not. Your joy and their pain can not mix. Both hang in the air..
both become a part of our lives. Their pain will never ease..
not in a meaningful way. We go on. We take our children to the
beach. We struggle with them over homework. Our lives go on...
but we are changed. We did gain something through the challenge,
through facing our fear, not that we had a choice. We were not
heros searching for meaning or joy or a better world. We were
frightened parents. Terrified parents. We were alone.
Relatives and friends brought
us casseroles. Most reached out to help us heal. A few were
too afraid. My own mother, in some ways developmentally frozen
at the age of ten when her sister died, couldn't even acknowledge
the operation, let alone visit us at the hospital. (I learned
the day my father died that my mother thought she had given
her sister the illness that killed her. It was the first time
she had talked about her sister. This told me why.)
My son lived.. but.. My son would
be gone in some ways. A new face awaited me.. him.. us.
When I first saw my son it literally
took my breath away. His head was the size of a basketball.
His eyes were swollen shut. His hair stood straight up, his
hair gel some sort of antibiotic cream. His head was shaved
in a one inch strip from ear to ear with the loose ends from
the tied knotting of his stitches acting as accents along the
dark thread weaving across the incision, especially pronounced
along the zig zag cuts just above each ear.
Below each ear tubes ran up under
his scalp clearly visible running up behind his ear and over
the top of his head.. under his skin. At the other end of each
of the tubes was a bulb somewhat like the squeeze bulb from
a turkey baster, except that these were clear so as to reveal
how much drainage had come from his head. They looked a bit
like some new fangled ear rings from hell.
Throughout all of his operations
I tried to be the strong one. I tried to be the optimistic,
the realistic voice that I thought my wife needed. My task was
to be the rock of confidence that everything was allright, that,
no, I actually thought he was looking better today. But seeing
Alex for the first time after this operation, I stumbled for
the phone. I needed her. I was almost in shock. I had expected
something different when I came in to see my son's new face.
For several hours my wife and
I held hands as we sat at Alex's side. He was still unconscious.
A nurse sat on a stool at end of his bed pouring over his charts.
Every few minutes she would adjust the flow of his medicines,
or drain the contests of the turkey baster bulbs and measure
That night Karen's mother came
to ICU to relieve us so we could spend a couple of hours with
our daughter over dinner. A half hour into dinner the phone
rang. Grandma said Alex was calling for us and she didn't seem
to be able to say anything to reassure him. I could hear him
calling for us in the background.
I rushed to the hospital and
ran to his room. If anything his head was larger. My son normally
wears hearing aids, but there was no way they would even fit
over his ear now, and they would never survive the drainage
or the mounds of slimy antibiotics. I moved close to his ear
to let him know I was there, lightly stroking his hand trying
to avoid the IVs. With his hearing aids out and his eyes swollen
shut I knew his fear was compounded by his inability to perceive
his surroundings. He was fighting to understand what was happening
but virtually all of his senses were numbed or totally absent.
"Alex, it's Daddy. I love
you. I'm here."
He stopped crying instantly.
"You are OK, Buddy. Your
eyes ae swollen shut, but the swelling will go down soon and
you will be able to see"
"You are in a large room
with lots of nurses. They are here taking care of you. Mommy
will be here soon. Next to your bed is an orange wall with pictures
Leaning into his ear and speaking
in a loud voice I tried to sound calm and loving. He loves machinery
of any kind, so really ICU would look pretty cool to him. I
described the heart monitor, the oxygenation sensor and monitor,
the little stick-on discs and wires that were stuck to his chest
monitoring his heart and his breathing.
He was asleep again. A few tears
had managed to squeeze through the swelling and were beginning
to dry on his cheek.
I cried. too.
This experience has changed us
all. We have seen our dragons. We have faced our fear, and through
it we saw each other. Our fear was of losing Alex., of crumpling
to the floor swallowed alive by anguish.
We hold each other tighter now.
We appreciate each other, though that doesn't say it strongly
I hope our family is done with
operatons. The whole experience was small scale parent hell,
but there has been a silver lining.
Perhaps Pearson was right. Although
we felt utterly alone at times, our reward has been a stronger
sense of community: with ourselves, with each other, and with
It has been a couple of years
since those operations and Alex is doing well. We live each
day at a time. Each doctor visit is a surprise, lately good
surprises. His bone grows. His hearing has slipped a touch,
but the optic nerves are safe after his last operation to remove
bone that was growing into them.
I worried that Alex would be
teased. That has been rare. In fact, he has gone on a couple
of "dates" with a wonderful girl.
"Just friends Dad".
Since he is 13 I am glad! But
I am even happier that others accept him, including the opposite
sex. My second greatest fear now gone.
He makes freinds easily and made
a new one at the local drug store last week while they both
looked at video games. His sports team won every game including
the city championship. He isn't the best on the team, but he
loves it and is proud.
For Alex... life is good.
And... finally.. for me too.
I am ready for a new challenge.
I want to build another boat.