Today, Friday, May 10, 2019, I am currently propped up in a recliner in my den, watching BBC America and writing on my laptop. My left leg is jacked up on multiple pillows on the recliner extension, draped in a blanket. I am surrounded by tray tables, pillows, and the minutiae of a normal life: phone, water bottle, remote, book, knitting bag, Kindle, tissues, etc. One table is tangled up in the charging cords of the devices that surround me, the hardware that is helping me pass the time as I wait. On Monday I go in for surgery on my broken left ankle and to have hardware installed, the kind that doesn’t come with apps.
Last Saturday I got up, dressed and went to First Holy Communion at my parish church and school where I teach. One of the students in the school choir became ill during Communion so I took her over to the school to wait for her mom to come and pick her up. I came home and changed, and my husband and daughter and I went out for lunch and some errands. I bought two new outfits for a trip planned for this summer, my 30th anniversary trip, to Hawaii. We came home and my daughter and I went to a shoe store to return some shoes, where I bought a cute pair of navy, strappy sandal wedges. I came home and modeled them for my husband and then went upstairs for a nap. This is where my whole world came to a crash.
After my nap, I came out to the living room and my dog, my adorable little 16-pound Maltipoo Puccini, was running around playing. He stopped short in front of me in that cute little stance, like he wanted me to chase him. I turned, and took one step to make the same sort of short stop to him, and BOOM–I tripped on the rug and fell flat on my back, banging my head on the floor hard enough to cause it to bleed (a little) and swell up (a lot) into an egg on the back of my head. While that hurt, the real pain scorching through my body was my left leg, from the knee down. So much so that I couldn’t get up.
Now, my left leg and I have had a love/hate relationship for years. In 1980, just at the end of my first and only semester of law school, I was changing the channel on my TV and somehow managed to fall over and dislocate my left knee, tearing cartilage along the way. Six weeks in a cast from my hip to my toes. Weeks and weeks of physical therapy. But, since I had not been invited back for the spring semester of law school, I had no scheduling issues, LOL.
Then in 2008, on a school field trip with my 7th graders, I once again fell over and this time I really did it, torn ACL in that same knee. Again immobilized for eight weeks and then months of physical therapy. Teaching from my rolling desk chair, using crutches in the hall dodging backpacks and teens, being physically exhausted by 10:00 AM with the whole school day stretching ahead of me. Not fun.
So, my first thought was that my knee was dislocated again, or worse, since I have no ACL to hold it in place. But, no, it was my ankle, which almost immediately began to swell. By later that night it was turning the colors of a Van Gogh painting. I only barely managed to keep my husband from calling 9-1-1. A nurse friend of my daughter’s came over to look at it, with that calm, cool demeanor required of this most distinguished of professions, running her finger tips softly up and down my foot. “It might be just sprained, but you should get it checked. Not necessarily tonight, but you should get it x-rayed because there are lots of little bones in the foot.” This assuaged my husband enough to let me go to bed with Advil and ice and pray for the best.
On Monday, off to the orthopedic I went. My doctor’s medical assistant took one look at it, and said, “probably going to need an x-ray on that.” Didn’t take long for the crushing news: left ankle, broken, bones displaced, surgery required.
One minute life is a series of small ups and downs, no big deal, missing part of First Holy Communion because of a sick student, finding some cute shorts and tops for a trip, having a great lunch, buying some new shoes, taking a relaxing nap, falling and hurting yourself over the stupid rug in your own living room. And then, a really big downer comes, surgery. A week to wait for the swelling to go down enough for the surgery to happen, and then TEN weeks of recovery. Not the spring and summer I had planned.
This week has been a revolving door of downs. Complete dependence on my husband: check. Pain, pain, pain: check. Crutches and realization that you are not as strong as you thought you were: check. In and out of the car multiple times for pre-op appointments and tests and the incumbent fear of something else being found wrong with you in those pre-op tests: check. Watching the clock for the next dose of Tylenol because that’s all you can take until the surgery (thank you opioid crisis): check. Mind-numbing boredom because you can’t focus on reading or knitting or much of anything: check. Stress over not being able to finish the school year and leaving it all to subs to cover for you: check. Anxiety and fear over impending surgery and doctors’ bills: check. Hotel reservations in Hawaii being canceled: check.
I’m a Libra, so it is no surprise to me that along with the aforementioned downs, there have been some really brilliant ups. Friends calling and texting. Commiserations on Facebook. A friend dropping off food. A neighbor walking my dog. My daughters checking in daily from afar. Flowers from a teacher colleague. Other teachers helping me out at school with making copies and helping my subs. Getting the hang of the crutches and the knee scooter, my best friend for the next ten weeks.
Of all the decisions I’ve made in my life, however, and this one has been reinforced to me a hundredfold this week, the best one of all is joining a church choir in 1987 to get to know a guy I had a crush on. And flirting with him (albeit not very convincingly) to try to get his interest. And moving across the country to follow him to the DC area. And saying “I do” on June 10, 1989. And having two beautiful, brilliant, talented daughters with him. And surviving loss of family members and friends. And living overseas for two years. And being empty-nesters on and off. I told the pre-op nurse yesterday that he is my rock…and that is a gross understatement.
Over-protective, annoyingly so, and meticulous in his care of me. For better or worse: check. In sickness and in health: check. Who told me, “Let’s say a Hail Mary,” when I was struggling on Wednesday: check. A marriage soon to be 30 years strong, with or without Hawaii: check. For richer or poorer: check. With love and compassion: check. Forever and ever: check.
Check out my latest article in Washington Family Magazine!
So, we are in the final countdown. Finish today and Monday, make it through “circus day” (no, really, a circus is coming to my school) on Tuesday, and half-day on Wednesday…and then, EASTER BREAK. As a full-time teacher, I am 100% qualified to tell you who looks forward to school breaks more, students or teachers: TEACHERS. I had a terrible cold/virus/ickiness over Christmas break and I lost the second week of freedom from grading and lesson planning, so I NEED THIS BREAK. I want to sleep in, read for hours at a time, cook a big meal for my family, organize my spring/summer clothes, see a movie, spend quality time with my husband, take long walks with my dog, do some writing, and so much more over the 7-1/2 school days I have off.
But, and this is a big one, this year Easter Break is really more about the culmination of my Lent. I went BIG this year. I gave up, I gave in, and I gave more.
First, the giving up. I gave up Facebook and diet soda. Giving up Facebook was like having a paper cut. Periodically through the day, I felt it, but I could easily forget it. Slap a band-aid on it and keep going. After deleting the app from my phone, I really didn’t think too much about Facebook. I don’t think I’ll put the app back on my phone after Lent. I’ll still check Facebook periodically from my laptop, but I’m not going to be on it from my phone.
The diet soda was a whole other thing, though. A few years ago, when I had a health scare, I gave up diet soda altogether. I ordered iced tea (or an adult beverage) in restaurants, or I just drank water. I get my caffeine intake from coffee in the morning and I have hot tea periodically throughout the day, so I never depended on diet soda for the jolt to get going. But, two years ago I changed schools and my current school has a vending machine in the faculty room. Guess who fell right back into the habit of having a Diet Coke or a Diet Dr. Pepper with lunch? Yep, just like falling off a horse. Got right back on with no difficulties.
I didn’t just want to give up things that aren’t really that good for me, though. So, I re-instituted a religious exercise I used to do before marriage and kids, going to Mass every day of Lent. So, every school day (except the school days where we had school Mass at 9:00), I have gone to 6:30 AM Mass. My husband and I go to 8:30 Mass on Saturdays. It’s been really hard training myself to get up an hour and a half earlier than on a normal school day. It’s been even harder training myself to go to bed earlier to make up for that.
The first week of Lent I was exhausted and cranky. I felt like my Lenten sacrifices were crushing me.
Monday of the second week, I told my daughter, “9 is the new 11,” and headed off to bed at 9:00 PM. I got used to being asleep by 10 and wasn’t so exhausted or so cranky. Some mornings I work up just before my alarm (I still hit the snooze the first time, though). I got my favorite parking space. I began to enjoy the 30 minutes or so of quiet time in my classroom before other teachers arrived for the day. I had oatmeal and coffee after Mass while checking email and getting my materials ready for the day.
Most importantly, however, a quiet calm came over me each morning sitting in Mass. I began to view the readings as literature, unfolding a story, one chapter at a time. I’m easily distracted in Sunday Mass, but in a huge church with only 30-40 people spread out in it, I am much less distracted and much more focused on the liturgy. The homilies have been much-needed fuel to help me with the final piece of my Lenten goals: have a more spiritual life. Daily Mass short homilies typically speak only to the liturgy of the word for that Mass, and I come away refreshed and reflective during my short walk to my classroom. It’s sort of like going to a really useful, meaningful professional development workshop: something you can use the very next day in your classroom.
This weekend is Palm Sunday, the official beginning of Holy Week. The blessing of the palm branches, which will be used for next year’s ashes on Ash Wednesday, foreshadows the coming events: the Triidum. This year I’m leaning in (thanks Sheryl Sandburg), observing it full-out, like the way I teach, like the way I cook, like the way I live. After all my work this Lent, both spiritual and personal, I’m not wasting it by being lackadaisical now. I’m ending this Lent with a bang. Easter Sunday will be so much more meaningful to me this year.
May this Holy Week and this coming Easter season bring you reflection, refreshment, and renewal. May God’s blessing be upon you and your loved ones.
Sunday, March 17, 2019:
This morning, the Second Sunday in Lent, Fr. Gabriel, our parochial vicar, began his homily at 10:30 Mass with, “How is your Lent going?” For the first time in a very long time, I felt as though I was fully prepared to say, “Good!” For a few weeks before Ash Wednesday, I thought about Lent and how I would live it this year. I wanted to enter Lent fully prepared to get as much as possible out of it. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to live a more prayerful life, and for me, that meant approaching Lent slightly differently than in the past.
Years ago, in my first career job after college, I was inspired by my roommate to attend daily Mass during Lent. For an early riser like my roommate, this didn’t seem to me like much of a sacrifice, but for a first-class night owl like myself, it was huge. I maintained this practice during Lent for many years after, but eventually, it fell by the wayside, partly aided by the birth of my two children. So, this year, on Mardi Gras night, I stunned my family by announcing that I would be getting up at 5:00 every day to go to daily Mass before school. I don’t think for a single moment they believed me.
After a week and a half of attending 6:30 AM Mass, and sitting in a relatively empty church filled with silence, I found myself really tuning in to the homilies. At morning Mass, particularly the 6:30 Mass, the homilies are shorter and much more focused. The celebrant’s main point has been sharpened and honed, better for sending out to people on their way to work. Much like poetry, these homilies demonstrate the idea that every word must count.
Last weekend, our pastor Fr. Lee said something in his homily that really struck me: “The language of heaven is prayer.” As a language arts teacher, the metaphor of learning a language before traveling to a foreign place was not lost on me. If we, as Christians, are all on our path to heaven, and we’ve never been there before, do we need to learn a foreign language before arriving? Is learning how to pray our instructional course for our journey to heaven?
In a subsequent morning Mass, Fr. Gabriel extended the metaphor. He first spoke of how important a passport is, particularly a US passport when traveling abroad. He said that if we were going to be traveling to another shore, a shore of perfection, we must be sure to have our passports in order. I reflected on his homily on my quick walk next door to school. The travel metaphor is an effective tool for my own Lenten journey.
In today’s second reading, Paul said to the Philippians (3:17-4:1), “Their minds are occupied with earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven…” As Christians, we all want to “go to Heaven,” something we’ve been taught since we were very young. Connecting this abstract idea to something concrete like traveling to another country is a bit easier. When I traveled with my parents to Scotland in 2000, where my maternal grandparents were born and raised, I got a passport, made flight reservations, purchased good walking shoes, and chose my weeks’ worth of clothing very carefully. I made sure to pack something wrinkle free and dressier to meet my mother’s extended family. I filled my carry-on with snacks and a book to read on the long plane ride. I brought small hospitality presents to hand out to our hosts.
I planned seriously for that one-week trip. These Lenten readings and homilies have made me think: am I planning seriously for my journey to Heaven? Have I learned the language of Heaven? Have I prepared carefully for my trip? Will my passport be in order?
Working for twenty years in the legal field, I did not think of prayer much during the day. I worked hard all day drafting and negotiating contracts and legal documents. My daily goals were quite different, finalize legal documents that would protect my employer. Sure, I said my prayers at night, and I went to Mass every Sunday, but was I actively learning the language of Heaven? Since becoming a Catholic school teacher in 2007, however, I pray many times throughout the day: morning prayer after the Pledge, the Angelus at noon, and the Act of Contrition before dismissal. We have school Mass every Friday at 9:00. Going to Adoration on Thursdays is just a few steps away in the convent chapel before I get in my car to head home. All school year, we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation the last Monday afternoon of every month. Every Friday during Lent, we walk around the church following the Stations of the Cross. My prayer life has been enriched greatly through my vocation as a Catholic school teacher. My daily goals now are to help make our students saints, to teach them how to navigate the path to Heaven.
Even though we are still early on in this season of Lent, I already feel that the blessings I am receiving outweigh my sacrifices. I do feel that I am preparing for my journey to Heaven. I practice daily the language of Heaven and my passport is in order. I receive the Eucharist daily to sustain me on my way. My response to Fr. Gabriel’s question this morning, “How is your Lent going” is most decidedly, “Good!”
Dear friends and followers, today is Ash Wednesday, and for Christians, the beginning of Lent. For these forty days of Lent, I will try to focus my writings and thoughts on more spiritual things, helping me to center myself on these three things: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
For so long, Catholics were asked to give up something for Lent; the theory being that the sacrifice of withholding one of our small pleasures in life would help us to prepare for Holy Week and the Passion of Christ. Now, the Church teachings have shifted to asking us to add something instead. Pray more. Fast more. Give more. I shall endeavor to do all three.
That being said, I am still giving up something for Lent. First the easy one, Diet Coke. I’ve cut way back over the past few years but I’ve slowly crept back to drinking a bit more, especially since my school has a soda vending machine in the faculty lounge. The more difficult one, though, is Facebook. Today, I posted my declaration to abstain from Facebook throughout the forty days of Lent. I’ve deleted the app from my phone as my final salvo. I will try to use the time I waste on Facebook each day to pray more and to write more, especially more spiritual things. Why is this so difficult? Primarily, because it is the only contact I have with many of my friends from back home, from pre-Katrina days, from high school and college. Wish me luck as I tamp down two bad habits while attempting to live a more prayerful life. Peace and prayers to all!