Sssslomp! SSSSLOMP! S-S-S-L-L-L-OMP! Went the sliding sock-clad feet down our wooden stairs last Wednesday morning. I stood in the kitchen prepping lunches with my face scrunched. Eyes squinting in anticipation. My breath held as I craned my neck to listen for the slip-stomping to turn into a Thud! Crash! Bang! “MOOOOOMMMMM!” But it didn’t. Instead, after the 14th slomp!, Elias emerged through the pocket doors dressed in a Boston Celtics T-shirt and bright green too-short shorts. Leaping like a March leprechaun right past me. Shouting with his unrecognizable palate-expader speech, “I have to feel the weather! It’s supposed to be warm out today!”
It took me a minute to catch on. Wishing I’d had my morning coffee to keep up with the little green imp, I moved my sloth-like-self in slow motion toward the door. Just in time to catch his face tilted up to the sky and see his arms outstretch with joy. It was glorious out and his glee was infectious. “Yes!” He exclaimed! “I knew it!” We stood there together. My little weatherman sock-footed-elf and I, breathing it all in. Not for as long as we’d have liked — but long enough to taste the magic of the day.
Later, after lunches were made and children were shuffled out the door, I stood with my coffee in hand wondering how it could be so warm out in December. It seemed improbable. And as I pondered this in my foggy-brain, it hit me. It’s March. Not December. I remember placing my hand on the counter; this epiphany forcing me to sit down for a minute in disbelief. I kept shaking my head from side to side. Realizing that a part of me had been stuck in late November/early December. “How is it that I missed everything?” I later asked my friend and then Rob. “I mean, I showed up. I was living. We did celebrate Christmas after all. Heck, I have pictures to prove it!” But in my heart we were still on the presipice of winter and I was frozen there — paralyzed in the storm.
Last November, after crossing the finish line at Ironman Florida, Rob said in a strange voice, “I think I need a massage. My legs feel really crampy.” He looked off. He was pale, cold and confused. “I think you need the medical tent!” I said without waiting for a response. And faster than I could have hoped, people appeared with a wheelchair just in time to catch him as the kids and I faltered trying to support his weight.
He was zipped away. Just like that. I will always be grateful for the layout of that course. The proximity of the medical tent. The fact that our kids and I could sit at the back of the tent by the fire truck; just outside but still able to see Rob’s reclined legs through the gap. And the shadows of what was happening. I will be forever grateful for the battery that lingered longer than it should have on the iPad that kept my kids occupied as I watched two attendants turn into 12. As soft voices got louder and my husband’s voice yelled out for me. My name being hollered shortly after by unfamiliar voices and with it came an understanding that all rules were being broken as they whisked me into the tent where only athletes are allowed. Asking me to rattle off the 15-plus medications he takes and to discuss his complicated medical history.
At some point they said Rob was stable. “He just needs fluids and rest.” I was grateful for that news too. Ironman spectating is no small feat for a grownup but for three children — to say it’s a long day is like saying Mt. Everest is a big hill. Rob told me to take them back to the room while he rested. So I did. Pulling phones out of bags, handing them to him and repeating instructions to make sure he heard me as I scanned his face. We left to get his bike and gear.
Back at our room, I remember making grilled cheese sandwiches with extra butter for my children as I talked on the phone to the doctor in the medical tent. “I think he should go to the hospital but he’s trying to convince me that he’s fine.” He can be quite persuasive I smiled to myself. “I think that if there’s any part of you that thinks he should go, then he should.” I said, watching my children gobble their gooey sandwiches while setting up a movie. My mind trying to figure out how I’d manage a hospital visit with the three of them.
Rob got on the phone. “I’m just resting. I’m good. Come when you can and we’ll go back to the room. I’m just worried about how I’m going to get my bike.” He said in a super-confident voice trying to convince me that he was fine. I wanted to believe him. “I got your bike already. I’ll be right there.” I replied in a super-calm voice implying that he wasn’t fooling me for a second although I wished that he was.
I left iPhones and computers. Phone numbers and a timeline. I left ice cream and candy with full permission to indulge. “I’m going to get Daddy and I’ll be back as soon as I can. It might take me a while to get him here.” They were tired and relieved to be left without me dragging them to one more place. They waved happily as they planned their night together. Barely glancing up as I left.
His heart stopped. I held him in my arms as they scrambled to help him. I screamed at him to wake up. Flooded with fear, I doubted the competency of the crew working on him. I wondered if he was having a heart attack? A seizure? I felt upset that I’d let him do this event while fully knowing I had no choice. He needed to do it for himself. I understood it but I was angry and afraid at the same time. They got the crash cart. They fumbled with it and couldn’t find things they needed. More people came and each yelled a different diagnosis; arguing about what to do. And then suddenly the EMTs came. They immediately started a new IV and injected something into it. His eyes opened. I’ve never seen eyes look foggy like his did. They were unrecognizable. Open but not seeing.
We took a taxi back to the hotel before the sun came up the next day. I placed my hand on each sleeping child’s head, bending down to smell their hair. Quieting my worry. I called to delay our flight home. Much later we found ourselves venturing out to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and other silly things to do with kids in Florida in the rain. He insisted. I hesitated. We went anyway and I was glad that we did. Our kids got to play and be stress-free. I have pictures of them playing and laughing but I don’t need the photos to prove it. Their faces and voices are imprinted on my heart. My tokens of relief.
I marveled at how well he was doing. We flew home. Rob worked with doctors to help him with his pain and arthritis. He had two seven-hour chemotherapy infusions shortly therafter. We went back to life and living. Except somehow, I guess I didn’t, because now I’m just waking up and it’s March. And I’m wondering what happened between November 2nd and March 9th. And I’m quite curious about how I made it from point A to point B without crumbling. Maybe I did crumble. I think I might have a bit.
When life gets tough we have a choice. We can decide to either show up or we can decide not to. We can crawl under the covers and hide in the darkness of our own broken hearts and fear. We can lose ourselves completely. Sometimes that feels better. Or safer? Or maybe it’s just more familiar — this half-living thing we can so often do.
To live fully engaged means to hold yourself open to … anything. Even the hard stuff. It’s risky living to live open-hearted. To be so raw. But if we don’t — if we don’t open ourselves up to doing more than just showing up — we might wake up one day and realize we were stuck in the past instead of fully living in the present moment. And that’s not choosing life. That’s just showing up. And while I’ve always believed that deciding to show up is a huge part of living, I’m coming to see, it’s not enough.
There is magic in each day if we are willing to hold our fear of hearts stopping with the risk of brave and full living. To slomp! down the stairs and run out the door to greet the day, even if you risk slipping and falling on the way. Months passed and I was here — but not really. My eyes have been open but foggy. I was processing my fear they only way I knew how; holding myself tightly and closed. Just last week I could feel a shifting. A heart thawing. I am here. I am ready to come home to myself.
Categories: Tri-Umphant Living