Harp Therapy

I was talking with my grandfather (“Pop Pop Pop” or “Three Pops,” as he is often also called) the other day and he told me a great story.  It was so good that I thought I would share it with you.

Imagine that you are an old, old man.  Your body is betraying you in the ways that broken down, worn out things eventually do, but your mind remains sharp.  That is probably because you continue to challenge yourself each and every day with puzzles and crosswords and sudoku and interesting people who have interesting conversations.  And you have the occasional fist fight from your electric wheelchair with the a-hole who insisted on shooting off his stupid mouth about how the Marines are better than the Navy.  Wheelchair be damned, you kicked that punk to the curb.  Respect.

You get up and out every single day.  Your calendar is more full now than it was 20 years ago.  You sign up for every field trip they make available to you.  You go to the casinos to play poker and the race track to play the ponies.  You go see the Phillies and the Eagles play.  You visit with your daughters and sons-in-law and your grandchildren and their children too.  You run for leadership positions at the Veteran’s Home and you win (by a landslide), mainly because people know you know people who matter and you know how to get things done.  It is still about the respect.

When you were a young man you made some less-than-stellar choices.  You may have participated in some less-than-noble activities.  But you had fun.  You lived hard and fast.  You lived by a code and you earned the respect that you got.  Looking back you realize that you may have hurt some of the people who you loved the most.  Sometimes you were selfish.  Sometimes you got angry.  Sometimes you made justifications to get what you wanted.  But also you were generous.  You were a big man who lived a big life.  Understandably, some of your regrets are big too.  It brings tears to your eyes these days, something that rarely happened back in the day.

But that is what happens when you turn into an old, old man.  You have more time for reflection.  More time to think.  More time to try to make amends.  And more time for annoying doctor’s visits to deal with your traitorous, failing body.  Some of the things that are happening to you make you want to ask for forgiveness, both to clear the air and to allay your fears that all too often start to creep in.  Fear of lonely, fear of old, fear of dead.  Fear of The End.  Fear of where you might go… you know, after you die.  I mean how bad is too bad to still get into heaven?  And the fear gets more tangible as time passes, especially when the doctor tells you that you need another surgery.

So you go to the hospital and you hold your oldest daughter’s hand and you listen as she says she loves you (and you grumble “me too” back at her) and you get on the gurney and you count backwards “ten, nine, eight…” as you fall deep into the fog of anesthesia.  And for a while you exist in suspension, floating around yourself, watching what the doctors and nurses do to your broken body as they try to mend it.  It does not really matter if it is a dream or if it is really happening.  You are still pretty sharp in the mind.  Sharp enough to recognize that the fear is still lingering.  Sharp enough to realize that you are in a white room with a cloudy haze over everything, like you are observing through gauze.  And you hear music.  It is beautiful and light and graceful.  And through the anesthesia you see that a beautiful angel is playing a giant harp, and she is beautiful and light and graceful too.  And you feel peaceful and you think of church (…even though you haven’t been inside of many) and you think of heaven and you think of God.  And you are confused, but happy because you thought maybe you were so bad that you might not go to the Good Place.  You begin to think that you are dead and that this is the beginning of The End.

Is This Heaven? No, It's Iowa. - Field of Dreams (1989)

But as that possibility is registering, you are overpowered by exhaustion and you fall back to sleep.  It is a deep, dreamless sleep.  In a few minutes or hours or a day, you wake up again.  This time the room is still white, but there is no beautiful angel playing beautiful music with her harp.  There is only a nurse who has come to check your vitals and tell you that your surgery went extremely well.

“The doctor will be with you shortly,” she tells you.  You are now wondering if you made the whole thing up.  You decide to be vulnerable and say something to the nice nurse.

“I think I died.  I was in heaven and an angel was playing gentle music on a harp.”  She stifles a little chuckle.

“No, hon, that was just Dolores.  She volunteers here and she brings her harp from room to room to play for the surgery patients.  It is therapeutic.”

“Therapeutic, my ass!  That’s a damn good way to give an old man a heart attack,” you say.  Then you wink at the nurse and tell her she can make it up to you by taking you to the track so you can bet on some horses.  This old man’s still got a whole lot of living to do.

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Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Who’s Calling?

Last weekend was high co-pay, medically speaking, for my extended family.  Pregnant Sister C had a fever of 102 degrees and had to go to the hospital.  Long story made short… she must have caught a virus, but mama and the baby are doing very well now.  Meanwhile, in New Jersey my dad apparently started exhibiting symptoms of a partially detached retina (floaters, flashes of light, heaviness of the eye, a sudden urge to come out of retirement and fight Marvelous Marvin Hagler) and had to go up to Wills Eye Emergency Room in Philadelphia to get it lasered.  He ended up having to go back for problems and follow-ups several times over this past week.  But you don’t screw around with a medical emergency that can leave you blind, so back and forth he and my mom went.

My dad is kind of a hard man to reach (both literally and figuratively, but that’s a whole different story…).  He does not like to talk on the phone.  He doesn’t even carry his cell with him; he leaves it in his car for emergencies.  When he is at the office he is usually all business, so I hesitate to call him there for fear of interrupting.  But when I haven’t spoken to him in a while and I want to check in with him on the phone in person (and not third party through my mom while he yells stuff in the background), I call him at work.  So the other day while I was driving the Mom Shuttle around town I decided to take my chances so I put on my bluetooth and I dialed his office number.

Receptionist:  Good afternoon, Weiss & Paarz, how may I help you?

Me:  Hi.  May I speak to Bob Paarz, please?

Receptionist:  May I ask who’s calling?

Me:  Sure.  This is Stacy, his daughter.  No, wait!  I’m actually his favorite daughter.  Don’t tell him my name.  Would you please just announce me as “your favorite daughter?”  That would be really fun.

Receptionist: (either scared to death for fear of pissing off her boss or suppressing giggles because she likes my idea, I can’t tell which) Sigh.  Please hold.

My dad:  (tentatively) Hello?

Me: (using a fabulously disguised voice)  Hello!  How are you?

My dad (still tentative, but laughing at me) I’m good.  How are you? (he still obviously has no idea which daughter I am)

Me: (ramping up the fabulousness of my disguised voice and having to suppress my own fits of laughter at the same time) I’m good, but I was worried about you.  Sounds like you had a rough week.

My dad: (continuing to make small talk to figure out who his “favorite” daughter is) Blah. blah, blah.

Me: (escalating the voice to a cartoonish level and decibel, at which point I break character and can’t stop laughing) That was fun!  Sometimes I crack myself up.

My dad:  You’re an idiot.

Jack Bauer: Chloe, I need those schematics now! Bart: Who is this? Jack: I'm Jack Bauer - who the hell are you? Bart: Me? I'm, uh, Ahmed Adoudi. Jack: Chloe, find out all you can about Ahmed Adoudi. Does anyone there know "I made a doodie"? Chloe: Ahmed Adoudi - wealthy Saudi financier. Disappeared into Afghanistan in the late '90s. Jack: Really? Chloe: No, Jack, it's a joke name. You're being set up! Jack: Damn it!

At least I got to talk to my daddy.  So it was a very good day.

Wish me luck for the weekend…