It’s the text you hope you won’t get. Hey, Mom. I’m at the ER now.
We’d dropped him off for college just six days ago. He’d been kayaking on Lake Champlain and camping in the outback with ten other college freshman. No media. All new people. We had talked the day before when he had returned exhausted. “I am so tired. I’m going to sleep forever.”
It was the following morning that I got the ER text. Hmmm… a splinter, maybe dehydration? The trip was rough, sleeping on the ground under a tarp, and a massive change in his diet. Maybe it was just an upset stomach from too many different, high fiber foods or the lake water?
After a few hours, it sounded rather mundane. They had given him an IV and it seemed to be dehydration. A few more hours passed. Then I called again. “Yeah, I was just about to call you. It’s my appendix.”
That was when things shifted. Oh dear. This was serious. Not earth shattering. But certainly serious. He was six hours away, and it was the last afternoon and evening of a vacation with my daughter and other friends. To say she was a tad bit upset when I went to retrieve her from the beach and leave to drive to the hospital, would be an understatement. She did not want to leave her friends and the sacred last night of beach fun with kids she spends just this one week with each summer. She was also very worried about her brother.
It was time for both of us to tap into the reserves of grit, courage and mindfulness that we’ve collected in tiny tear-sized bits in our day-to-day practice of life. When life is fun in the sun, showing who you are is easy. When something unexpected happens you have to float on the hidden reserves that you’ve built.
Often we don’t think of life and the unexpected events as the training grounds for building resilience. Life is going to throw all of us some curve balls. There is no way around that. By “handling” the small ones the muscles are developed to stay calm, aware and thoughtful when the big ones come along. That’s when it really matters.
It was a tedious drive from Cape Cod to Vermont knowing he was about to go into surgery. It took a lot of effort to keep the fears from becoming monsters. Other friends who were nearby on vacation visited him as he waited and his newfound UVM friends said they would stay until we arrived. We got there just as the surgeon came out to give an update. It was not just removing his appendix. It had ruptured and the recovery would be a bit more complicated.
This morning, a few days since then, I am still in the hospital in Vermont, a day’s drive from home. My son is raring to get to his first freshman classes, something he has been waiting all summer to do. My teen daughter is tired and ready to get home to begin her school year. We are listening to doctors orders for his self-care and getting him back to his dorm room. I’m managing my own fatigue and mother fears. It’s not what we expected for the first Monday of the school year for him, yet here we are.
Amidst the fatigue, I am so grateful. Grateful for the fact my son knew to call the one new friend whose phone number he had. Grateful that he listened to his body and insisted at the ER that they check him again as they were about to send him home. Grateful for the care at the hospital from the surgeons, doctors and amazing nurses. Grateful for the new roommates and friends who have been by to see him at the hospital and inquired when he did not come home to the dorm that first night. Grateful for the beautiful garden and local community who created it that we spent time in the last few days as he has been recovering. Grateful for the accidental meeting of a wonderful Chaplain that I met in the garden who told stories of using nature to supports patients she works with. Grateful for my daughter’s care and compassion for her brother, even when it drastically changed her plans. Grateful for friends and family who are supporting us. Grateful for our healthy bodies and a normal day. The list could go on and on.
Most of all I am grateful for the teachers who showed me the practices to build this resilience. These practices allow me to be with this reality and feel the fatigue, disappointment and fear flowing along with an amazing river of abundance.
My son is a writer and he will have a great story to tell. Last night as he thanked the nurse for his dinner he turned to me and said, “Gratitude and punctuality are the two cheapest of virtues.” Who said that I asked? ” I did,” he responded. I am humbled by his wisdom. It is so very true.