I climbed into the driver’s seat of Jaws, our 1995 Ford Explorer--the gas-guzzling “Great White.” The steering wheel practically pressed against my chest but I still had to stretch my right leg to reach the fuel and break pedals. The automatic garage door rattled open and Jaws roared to life with a puff of exhaust. My foot cramped. I felt like Goldilocks sitting in Papa Bear’s chair.
David sat in back on the passenger’s side, his assigned spot since cardiac bypass surgery on September 23. Today was the fourth of November. His surgeon probably wouldn’t allow him anywhere near an airbag deployment device for two more weeks. David’s sternum was wired but not yet sound.
I twisted around for a view out the rear window, awakening an assertive nerve in my lower spine. David’s head and shoulders obscured a fourth of the pane and the end of the redwood retaining wall poking into our driveway. My right side-view mirror offered little additional enlightenment.
“Tell me if I’m going to hit anything,” I said, inching Jaws out of our garage.
The right side-view mirror cleared the doorway with room to spare and revealed no pending hazard. So far so good. I again twisted toward the rear. Another sharp pain followed. Then came the dull thud I’d hoped to avoid. One point scored for the retaining wall. Backing up Jaws was enough to drive me crazy.
“I think the wall looks better now.” David’s tone was one of resignation.
Jaws was unscathed and the redwood cap on the end of our retaining wall just minimally rearranged. My ego had suffered the only significant damage. I shot a wistful glance at my shiny little red Miata in the garage. No folding David into that two-seater until his sternum had fully healed. For the time being, I’d have to remain in the Great White’s grip.
I wound down our street at twenty miles per hour to the collection of potholes best called Over-the-Hill Road. A muffled groan from the back seat prompted me to slow to fifteen. Reconfiguration of the circulatory on-ramp to David’s left ventricle had taken a toll on his endurance. Loss of independence hadn’t helped him either. Years ago, I’d driven our daughter’s cake decorating contest entries around these curves to the local elementary school. A peppermint-studded gingercake house. An animal cracker merry-go-round cake. Even a sheet cake with an aqua-frosted swimming pool and spearmint leaf hedge. Now I carried the equivalent of a six-foot wedding cake and the upper tier listed to starboard, the odors of illness and age replacing those of mint and vanilla. I slowed Jaws to ten miles per hour.
I reached the bottom of Over-the-Hill Road, turned right and passed the bank. Bankruptcies. Job losses. Foreclosures. A monster SUV at warp speed had backed into Wall Street this year. One person’s health problems were mere specks of volcanic ash amidst this world’s inundated financial “City of Pompeii.” For many, a bleak holiday season lay ahead. Life was a road full of potholes, a stretch to reach the pedals and a fight to maintain control during adverse circumstances.
Yet David’s medical condition had brought prayers, cards, phone calls, visits and offers of assistance. Our neighbor had mowed our lawn. Our daughter and her boyfriend had volunteered to put up the outdoor Christmas lights. A member of our church family would install the annual seven-foot tree in our bedroom. We received daily calls from the children. Friends, family and love were part of life’s journey, too.
This holiday season, millions would perch in ill-fitting chairs of existence and no one person held the power to correct the situation. That fact ought to be enough to drive everybody crazy. Still, each of us held the power to initiate personal momentum and improve the lives of others. I steered Jaws onto the freeway. The speedometer needle climbed to the sixty mark. Time to press on the fuel pedal of compassion instead of on the brake.
Laurel and David
p.s. Heroes Arise brought me many speaking engagements in 2008 with more to come in 2009. No money in this and no personal profit from book sales. However, one reader recently mentioned she had contemplated “getting even” with a coworker, remembered my book’s message and decided against vengeance. Artistic compensation comes in colors other than green, silver or gold.
Causes Laurel Hill Supports
Winter Nights Shelter and Shelter, Inc.