“What draws people to be friends is that they see the same truth. They share it.”
― C.S. Lewis
“Anyone can love a thing because. That’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket.
But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.”
― Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear
‘What time do you want to do this?’ my brother asked me.
‘Never,’ I said.
‘Mary, it’s time. She’s suffering.’ My brother is older and wiser and was steadying himself to take on the burden of having to choose. My brother is also strong and has broad shoulders.
‘I know,’ I responded. ‘One O’Clock?’ I asked.
‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Let’s tell the others.’
On New Years Eve in 2003 six children gathered around their mother who lay unconscious in a hospital bed breathing through a tube. One of her eyes was peacefully closed, the other half open and limp.
‘She knows we are here,’ I said. ‘I just know it.’
The Doctor came into the room and looked at each of us. ‘Are you ready?’ he asked us.
We gathered closer in a circle around her bed. Some of us held hands, some did not. I do not remember really. I just remember wrapping my hands around one of my mother’s and feeling the warmth of her skin.
My oldest brother nodded to the Doctor. The Doctor moved over to her IV and injected a final shot of morphine.
I looked around to each of my siblings and then back down at my mother and started to pray.
‘Hail Mary Full of Grace, The Lord is with Thee. Blessed art though amongst women…’
My brothers joined, ‘…and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God…’
As we prayed I watched her heart monitor and followed the blip of her heart beat. How long did we stand there over her, hands entwined, praying? I do not know. I do remember her heartbeat beginning to slow. The peaks on the monitor growing fewer and farther between each long valley. Then her hands started to grow cold. It began at the fingertips and moved down her long fingers, across her palm and up her wrist. I squeezed tighter not wanting to let her go. She was already on her way.
When the white line on the heart rate monitor fell flat we ended the prayer and stood in silence over her.
The nurse opened the window to my mother’s hospital room. I remember the blue of the sky outside. It looked warm for the last day in December. ‘Some believe it is important to open a window and set the soul free,’ the nurse said.
I remember feeling gratitude for her thoughtfulness.
‘Remember to talk to me,’ my mother told me a few days earlier. ‘I will leave pennies for you so you know I am with you.’
It is now 2013. 10 years since my mother passed. I had forgotten about the pennies. I have forgotten many things about her. What I do remember is the sound of her voice.
Being on crutches this past month has forced me to slow down. Way down. My head is no longer buried in my phone. I’m not driving fast. I no longer feel that urgent sense of Must Get Things Done. I’ve been forced, beaten down really, into accepting that I cannot control everything – that things break and fall over and are imperfect. That life is hard and even when you think you’ve been dealt a shitty hand you better hang on ‘cuz chances are you’re not done and there’s probably more on its way and you will just have to push through that too.
I’ve also started noticing pennies again.
A pocket full of pennies. I started picking them up. Enough pennies to refill the soul with hope and the reminder that we are not alone. Those that we love, those here and far, are all still with us. It’s just a matter of slowing down and taking the time to notice and in some cases, remember.
I had filled October with plans. Plans. Plans. Plans. An Adirondack Ragnar. A Tri-State Tough Mudder. And the crowning glory highlight? As a member of the Pearl Jam fan club, Ten Club, two tickets in the pit in front of the stage for Pearl Jam Friday Night in Brooklyn. I entered the fan club lottery and was selected for some of the best tickets available! I paid the hefty price tag for the two tickets not because I enjoy going to concerts anymore, which I don’t, but because it is Pearl Jam and I absolutely love Pearl Jam. Always have, always will. If you know me and know anything about me, whether we are in each other’s lives today or not, doesn’t matter because the one thing you know for certain is that Mary is a bona-fide fan of Pearl Jam. She is a member of their fan club and has been known to spend more money then legitimately justifiable on a decent set of tickets and will drive/fly/walk to cities near and far to see them.
Then she breaks her foot.
She can no longer WOD. She’s now interviewing for new jobs on crutches and asking for rides to and fro. The belt on the vacuum snaps. Her dog runs into a stone wall while fetching the ball and almost breaks his leg. Mary is forced to left-foot drive the dog to the emergency vet clinic to get stitches. ‘Dog on three legs, owner on crutches,’ the vet tech says while radioing to the back room for help. Pet owners in the waiting room can’t help but stare at Mary and wonder, what the hell happened to them? ‘Fucking shit show,’ she says out loud to anyone that will listen.
Mary can’t carry her groceries up the stairs. Friends she thought were best friends suddenly disappear and she’s exhausted and humbled by unimagined moments of total powerlessness, most specifically always having to ask for help. People have stopped answering the phone when she calls. She doesn’t blame them.
She cancels her Ragnar, her Tough Mudder, her Strongman Competition. But Pearl Jam? That’s a tough nugget to swallow. Then she goes to a Penn State vs Michigan football game 5 hours away with the help and encouragement of three friends from her CrossFit family and she thinks, Hey wait a second, I’m stronger than I think.
Not being able to find a resolution to the Pearl Jam in Brooklyn quandary, Mary can’t sleep. She talks to everyone she knows wondering what she should do with the tickets. Mosh pit on a broken foot? Probably not the best idea, most people say. But then, they know this is Mary and Pearl Jam we’re talking about… anything is possible.
Enter her CrossFit Family once more. Mary is once again astonished by the generosity and spirit and caring of this community. Carmen writes to say she knows nothing about Pearl Jam but would love to go, would love to drive Mary and she down to Brooklyn for the show, and then tastefully adds.. ‘If I get in a fight with someone about you and your crutches, you have to bail me out of jail.’
‘Okay!!’ Mary says, her heart once again singing.
And if that were not enough, Mary remembers visiting Seattle for Thanksgiving many years ago and visiting a home in Seattle for Thanksgiving dinner hosted by someone who happened to be a real estate agent and self-proclaimed biggest Pearl Jam fan, ever. ‘There’s no bigger fan than me,’ Mary says. ‘I’m not so sure,’ her gracious host adds. The host then shows Mary a single penny tapped to a piece of paper and tacked to a cork board in the kitchen.
‘Found this during a recent open house I hosted,’ the host says to Mary. ‘The house was owned by EV,’ she adds. ‘Pretty sure that’s Ed’s Penny.’