Say “Uncle”

I don’t understand why they have to make hospital beds so big.

My Grandad is swallowed up in his, half sitting, half laying, wiggling his toes under the blanket like a little kid as the nurse asks him a series of questions about his health. In his whopping 61.7 kg state, he can in no way measure up to the body mass that the hospital bed wills him to be.

To be fair, it’s not actually a hospital bed… It’s a rehab bed. As if that’s any better. The last person I saw in a rehab bed died of neglect from the people “taking care” of her.

But Grandad just smiles, ready to be as pleasant as possible if that’ll get him home faster. “Are you feeling any pain?” the nurse asks. “Nope,” he says with a smile. “Feeling much better.”

I decide to be the narc. I lean over and whisper to the nurse, quiet enough that Grandad can’t hear me. “He was saying his feet hurt earlier.”

The nurse swivels her head to look at me, then swivels it back to Grandad. “Were your feet hurting you earlier?”

“Well,” he fumbles, caught in his lie (he gives another reassuring smile), “they’re sore, but that’s just from not using them.”

“Well, that’s the sort of thing I want to know about,” she says, nodding and making a note on her chart.

 I don’t blame him for trying to weasel his way out of rehab. He’s already been in the hospital for several days now; he just wants to go home. But to his credit, he was surprisingly quick to agree to it. As I said earlier, he’s been unusually pleasant… He quickly descended from his prior attitude last week — when the doctor asked him to stay overnight in the hospital so they could carry out the procedure the next morning, he got mad and left because he didn’t want to wait — to his consent to an extended stay while they fuss with his medicine. The time has finally come for Bill Boyne to say “uncle” and let the doctors do what they want to do.

Sometimes it’s good to be humble. Sometimes humility is forced on you. Either way, it’s better than winding up dead. This week has seen a lot of death for me: a neighbor died. A friend of the family who was basically an extra grandfather growing up died. A distant relative died. Each death could be seen for miles away: He was old. He had cancer. He was homeless and not taking care of himself.

I try to picture my Grandad being in my shoes, hearing about so many people passing away. Would it be easier to hear when you’re in your 80s? Some say you get used to it; it becomes monotonous. I say, it must be a wake up call every time. Remember death, friend? It’ll come back for you eventually.

Once you get a taste of death, it lingers. You’ll never not know that taste. And there are days that you will fret over the next time that it will reach your lips. But what good does worry do in this scenario? It removes you from the moment; it distracts you from making new memories because you so avidly hold on to the ones you have.

This is my struggle: I have no ability to move forward. In this instance, or in any other instance in my life, I cling to what is already established. I fear the great unknown. You’d think with all my improv lessons, I would have gotten it by now: the unknown is what’s so brilliant about the world around us. I even take pleasure in announcing my love for the unknown, but when it comes right down to the things I want to keep in my life — the people — it’s harder to accept that constant ebb and flow of reality (read: life).

Snap out of it, Sam! Life never presents itself in a palatable form; it offers up joy, but always hand in hand with worry, concern, fear, anger, sorrow. With a little humility, it becomes clear that this will never change. And so you have to say “uncle” and let life do what it’s come to do. It’s better than winding up dead.

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Room for Improvement

You know those moments where you cringe to think about how far you’ve come in life in terms of thoughtfulness, only to completely fail in one stupid, thoughtless moment? Yeah. I had one of those moments last week.

My roommate works with autistic people. I know this. I know a small amount about the autistic spectrum — obviously, I could learn more, but I’m not completely ignorant if the subject is brought up. And yet, in one swift but incriminating moment, I referred to autistic people as “retarded”. Jesus Christ, Sam.

I’m not even going to try to excuse myself; I’m ashamed that it came out of my mouth, even if it was a mistake. Even if as soon as I said it, I wanted to die a little bit inside (and here I go, making excuses). I keep thinking to myself, I shouldn’t make mistakes like that anymore… I’m 27 years old, and this is 2016.

As my mind devises ways to punish myself for my slip ups, I remember two adages that make me laugh in juxtaposition: “See every day as an opportunity to better yourself,” and “Love yourself for who you are.” They don’t make me laugh because they are in conflict — they make me laugh because people assume that they are.

The only way that they are in conflict is if you believe that your identity is in stasis. Humans are an ever-fluctuating, beautiful mess: it is in our nature to evolve, and adapt to our surroundings. This happens over time, sometimes so slowly that we don’t even realize that it’s true until we look back on our lives. True human nature is found in this change — in these contradictions. 

I love small spaces, and I love people, but I hate over-crowded rooms. I make sex jokes all the time, but I am not even visible in the dating scene. Contradictions. And there are more embarrassing, personal contradictions, when people say what they don’t mean, or mean what they don’t say, or don’t understand the emotions that they’re feeling so they inaccurately describe them to the world. The thing is, people see these contradictions, and they label them as flaws. And while it’s true that you don’t want to be made entirely of contradictions (that’s called an identity crisis), having a couple is not a terrible thing. They are what make us human. They show that we don’t always have everything laid out and organized, and our emotions don’t always come out in an appropriate manner because they are human emotions, after all.

_20160316_004111We are fluctuating beings. We take in our environments, process new information, and adapt ourselves accordingly, and not always 100% appropriately… but we try. In this regard, it is wonderful that we change. And yet, while we should always look to better ourselves, there is still a necessity to be in the here and now, appreciate where we are in our walk, and recognize that while the journey is more important than the destination, the journeyer is more important than the journey.

It’s a difficult balance, made a hell of a lot easier when you have people holding you accountable. It is a great idea to have people who will not only correct you when you make a mistake, but love you as you try to fix it. There are many people in my life, like my roommate, who put me to shame on different issues, and this is a good thing: to feel shame for mistakes made is to feel growth, for they are usually connected. You don’t always feel great when someone holds you accountable, but you should feel appreciative that they are doing so.

A lot of time we don’t look for accountability partners because we are too lazy to make the change. Other times, it is because we don’t want to admit that there’s room for improvement. When you take a class, your teacher or instructor keeps you accountable for the new information you take in. When you work on a team, your teammates keep you accountable for the ground you cover together. When you’re by yourself, you rely on an unreliable source — yourself — for that accountability. Ah, the benefit of community.

In this case, perhaps it is time for me to learn more about the autistic spectrum, instead of just knowing enough to get by and leaving an opening to slip up. See, making mistakes leads to learning opportunities. Embrace them. Embrace change, and embrace yourself. And embrace the people who stand with you in this ever-fluctuating system we call life.

Prayer and Prejudice

Today, my Grandad turns 86.

 His birthday is today; his brother, my Great Uncle Donald’s birthday is tomorrow. When my sister and I were born, they placed bets on whose birthday we would share. My Grandad won — they always used to joke that that’s why he loves us so much.

Uncle Donald is actually younger than my Grandad, but he’s in a nursing home. There have been a lot of things in his life that I’m sure have aged him quicker than most — I could write a book, I tell ya. But Grandad is a stubborn man, and he carries on, periodically needing the hospital to pump the fluid out of his lungs, but still spirited enough that he doesn’t want to have to wait for it to be done.

I really miss my Grandad.
I mean, let’s be real: I miss my whole family, all the time. But there are moments when I am reminded of each family member in turn and wish that teleportation was a viable travel option so that I could pop in and see them. As my Grandad ages, his mortality becomes more and more real to me… just like Grandma’s did last year. These are thoughts that I wish I could wish away. There are moments when I get nervous about how he’s doing, or how quiet he’s gotten, and this panic rises in my chest.

It’s actually times like these that I wish I believed in the power of prayer.

Let me explain. Coming from a girl who grew up in a Christian household, that probably sounds really cynical. And maybe it is, to some extent… But I’m a different person than I used to be. The amount of faith and the specificity of what I believe fluctuates on a daily basis, but even on a good day, I still don’t seem to have that childlike reassurance that I had when I was a kid. You could say I’ve become jaded. Or you could say I’ve grown up.

I don’t believe that God is sitting around, waiting for a certain amount of people to speak up before healing someone; and I certainly don’t believe that he’s going to make someone live forever just because I ask. When I was a kid, I could pray for the sky to dance and the world to wash me in its goodness; now, I know better. My prayers are a little different.

I believe that one individual can change the course of humanity, but I believe they have to do it within the boundaries of reality. We are tiny in the span of the universe; and we all have prayers that are discordant with one another. If I pray for sun and a farmer prays for rain, the amount of our need or desire does not change the fact that the weather patterns are already set in motion. God isn’t going to screw around with nature just because someone wants to take a walk on Front Street — or because someone wants their crops to be bountiful.

I look at Bible stories differently now: when God told Abraham that he would save Sodom and Gomorrah if there were enough good people within its walls, you can believe that God isn’t really omnipotent and didn’t actually know the outcome; or, you can believe that he already knew there weren’t enough and was just trying to give Abraham a sense of hope, momentary though it was. When a child asks their parents if they can stop for ice cream on the way home, and they answer, “If there’s time,” there’s a good probability that they already know there isn’t enough time. They’re not lying — they’re answering truthfully without being the bad guy, knowing that the child is going to fall asleep in the car and not wake til they get home, anyway.

So what is the purpose of prayer? Well, I think that there is some dignity in expressing yourself — what an awful existence, if we could not state our hopes and dream — and confiding in someone does create a bond that we should not take lightly, whether it is with God or even with yourself. When I lie in bed, thinking about a scenario that has gone awry, my strength is not found in the assurance that things will be magically fixed — it is found in embracing my situation, letting those emotions run their course, and trying to remind myself that even if things may not get better, I have the opportunity to learn and grow from them. It is found in the recognition that life happens as it will, and it is better to roll with it than to dispute it, selfishly expecting different results. There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; there is a time to mourn, and a time to dance. There is a time to be born, and a time to die. To pray for joy when your heart knows it needs to weep is to deny yourself the natural order of life.

I’m not saying that I’m against prayer. I’m just saying that I come at it a different way now. Maybe it’s a cynical approach, and maybe I’m missing out by looking through this perspective. But it’s where I am.

It still doesn’t make it better, though, when your Grandad has to go in for a procedure the day after his birthday and all you can think about is how little control you have over the situation. Realism bites.

If one individual can change the course of humanity, it is through action, not thoughts. But your thoughts tend to drive your actions. So, though I am still stuck seven hours away from my family, I will embrace the situation I find myself in: I miss them — and I let those feelings happen. They will drive me home in due time.