Thursday, February 14, 2013
When Lent Comes Early
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, but I feel like we've been in Lent for at least a week already.
We took a few days to visit my mom and dad about two weeks ago. Gareth came down with the flu a couple days before we were supposed to leave and we didn't know if we would be able to go or not. Gareth never gets sick, so it surprised all of us (including him) when he spent a day wrapped up in a bright orange University of Tennessee blanket, shaking with fever, and suffering from a deep chest cough and a sore throat. But then he felt better, so we went to see my mom and dad. My parents live in a small town on three acres in the woods, so we laid low for a few days and enjoyed a brief snow fall and seeing Grandma and Grandpa and we watched a lot of bad movies. (John Carter for one. Oy.)
Considering that Gareth (who never gets sick, remember) had been incapacitated for a whole two days with this virus, I should have taken this as a warning for the rest of us. But since I had just gotten over a virus which produced lots of bronchial gunk, I thought he was just responding rather violently to the same virus I'd already had. I am rather violently allergic to my parents' house (mold in the damp crawlspace), but this time -- with my gluten-free diet -- I barely needed my inhalers, and I was congratulating myself on this (note to self: bad idea!) when on the day we came home I suddenly started feeling kind of... bad. I couldn't breathe right. I had a tickle in my throat that made me cough every few minutes. It all felt very familiar, and I figured that I had just worn out my welcome with the mold.
On the up side? It wasn't the mold.
On the down side -- by the next day it felt like the purpose of the coughs was to bring my toenails up to the level of my forehead.
And I had a fever.
And Andy was out of town.
Fortunately my boys have a sister and she is thirteen and can make spaghetti and thinks about things like, It's lunch time, we should eat. She took care of the two year old and mostly kept him from jumping on my head as I lay in bed. By the time Andy made it home late Thursday night I was feeling a little better, but by then George and Leo had both started to run their own fevers, which eventually spiked to nearly 104 degrees. At this point, everyone has been infected and only Andy is still in the thick of things... although some of us have... complications.
Like me. I have bronchitis.
Sometimes it feels like my whole life has been measured by bouts of bronchitis. Certainly some of my earliest memories have to do with bronchitis -- the Santa Claus ring I got in trade for a shot in the posterior, for instance. I think I might have been four. Anyway, it was winter, and we still lived in Ohio, and snow drifts were piled along the road in big rumpled black-and-brown iced piles, and I was sitting in the backseat of my father's blue Oldsmobile turning Santa Claus around in my hand before shoving the pink plastic band on my finger. But there are only a million more memories I have in some variation of that one, growing from Santa Claus rings to crumpled white prescription papers and late nights in line at the pharmacy as an adult. Probably it's all got something to do with the string of moldy houses I lived in until I was 18 or 19 (and again, as an adult in New York) and a lifetime of undiagnosed gluten intolerance. To some people bronchitis is an momentary irritation. To me, it's like that mean dog that chases you every time you pass a neighbor's yard. No matter how many times you go out of your way to avoid that yard and that dog, sometimes you just can't. And whenever you do, the dog is always there.
When I was thirteen, bronchitis became pneumonia and hung on for so many months that I was tested for TB in the spring. (I didn't have TB. Thank God.) That was the year my grandmother died. She had been diagnosed with extensive lung cancer only months before, but now she had been moved onto a hospital bed in the living room of her home, so she could die while being cared for by her family. We made the long trip from Tennessee just in time; she died while we were there. That winter for me is a mixed up jumble of coughing and snow and crying.
Last Sunday, while we were all sick, and I was sitting on the couch coughing and thinking it was probably bronchitis again, my mom texted me some news -- my aunt, who had been struggling to recover from extensive bowel surgery since September, had died. While her recovery was often touch and go over the past several months, her death happened too suddenly. I knew that Jesus was keeping her close to Him because I had asked Him to (repeatedly), but the shock coupled with the fact I was stripping vomit-sodden clothes from a seven year old and coughing up my lungs at the same time was a little too much. Mardi Gras seemed like it should have come a long while before.
And then at 5 AM on Monday morning, Andy checked the news on his phone during one of those sick intervals when you've all been sleeping restlessly on the couch, and woke me up with the news that the Pope said he was going to resign his Office.
This was definitely Lent.
It was cold and rainy and even the crocuses in the yard that had greeted me cheerfully upon our return home were wilted and nearly gone.
But you know what? They were only closed up a little and wilted. But they were still there. I've never liked February or really early Lents, and this year was like a cruel bit of deja vu, because the last time Ash Wednesday fell on February 13 and Valentine's Day was the Thursday after, I had a miscarriage at 13 weeks and came home from Mass bleeding. This year it was my aunt whose funeral was on Valentine's Day.
But there were flowers on the table (Andy's card read: There's nobody else I'd rather have the flu with) and a bowl of gorgeous oranges and the sky was blue today and the boys were feeling good enough to spend thirty minutes or so outside in the fresh air. Chipmunk found a purple crocus among the azalea bushes and brought it in to put it in a glass. I pulled a muscle coughing last night, but today was the first day I could really say, I think I'm feeling better. I managed to make our chocolate chip pancakes for Mardi Gras dinner last night, and on one of my many trips to CVS, I picked up a couple of bags of Valentine candy.
It is Lent, but those little things -- none were very involved and there certainly wasn't much candy -- meant a lot. Lent never happens the way I plan it. I can never demonstrate my desire for penance by fasting or making involved crafts with my children or holding to any kind of educational plans at all. Lent never happens the way I think it ought to. I'm a little hard-headed, but it did finally occur to me that maybe all Jesus needs from me is that I follow His lead and keep my eyes on him, and that maybe it doesn't really matter that I only just got the Christmas books off the coffee table -- because I asked Gareth to bring them upstairs for me.
Anyway, the crocuses remain. Lent ends in Easter every year. The kids are slowly getting back to normal. There's no more vomit in the carpet. Jesus has my aunt. And my little one. There are no big plans for Lent this year, but the little plans seem to be big enough.