My Miracle Man

Dawn breaking
Dawn breaking

I don’t usually get personal here, but as dawn breaks on this new year, I feel it’s appropriate to take a moment to talk about my miracle man. Other people talk about their miracle babies—babies they weren’t “supposed” to be able to conceive or weren’t “supposed” to live. Well this case is a little backward from that perspective, because I’m talking about Pa, my grandpa, who of course was conceived and lived several years before I came onto the scene.

Why do I say he’s my miracle man?

In one of my first memories of Pa, I sat on his lap and noticed a scar on his neck, which I instantly dug my little finger into, demanding, “What’s that?!”

“My second belly-button,” he said. Some time later, I learned that it was a tracheotomy scar. He’d had polio when my mother was a young child. I’ve been told that while in an iron lung, nuns surrounded him and prayed for him 24/7. (They’re miracle workers!) Pa survived the ordeal and the only visible sign was that “second belly-button” of his.

Then there was the time when the Prudential office where he worked was held up. For some crazy reason they selected Pa to be their hostage, but they couldn’t decide what to do with him. One would tell him to do one thing and the other would tell him to do another, all the while with guns on him. As the family legend goes, Pa calmly obeyed each, playing the part of a human volleyball, going and doing where ever and whatever they told him.

And then there’s his driving. Let’s just say I think he’s always known exactly where he wanted his car to be and the rest of the world better behave the way he anticipated, or else… As far as I know he survived numerous crashes and never hurt anybody else. He taught my mom to drive, who taught me to drive, so it can’t be all bad, right? Well, maybe.

The point is, he survived it all and became my Pa after all. He diligently recorded that journey with his camera, whether I liked it in the moment or not. Now I enjoy taking my camera everywhere I go and 101_1368snapping those pictures, and driving my own kids crazy. (My grand kids are still too young to be bothered by it.)

Pa and Granny came to my dad’s church and I always got to sit between them. Pa, on my left sang in his monotone while Granny, on the right sang in her sweet soprano voice. While the preacher droned on and I got cold, Pa wrapped his suit coat around my shoulders. After the service, Pa would bump me on the head with his Bible and say, “You’ve been struck by the word of God!”

In the summers, I got to mow their lawn. Pa took me out and showed me their lawn mower and reminded me about all my mother had already taught me about it. The spark plug and wire, checking the oil, filling it with gas, the throttle. He reminded me to pick up the pine cones out of the yard first and turned me loose.

Sometimes Pa took my brothers and me fishing in his fancy fishing boat with the live well and the fish finder. He taught me to bait my own hook, but there was no way I wanted to take the flopping fish off the line. Today, I’m the 4-H fishing project leader in two counties.101_2611

Once, I either called one of my brothers or one of the fish a “sucker” and I wasn’t referring to the type of fish. “Watch your mouth!” came the quick reply from Pa at the other end of the boat, and I learned that a certain amount of decorum is expected from a young lady, whether she’s fishing with Pa or cross-stitching with Granny. I learned to respect myself and others around me and to expect that respect in return. As a teacher, wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter, and grandmother, this still serves me well.

Pa sat beside his mother, his best friend, and Granny while they each trudged through the darkness of Alzheimer’s. He was there when nobody else would go.

Last month, Granny visited my dreams for two weeks straight. In one of the dreams, Pa sat beside me at the piano, singing and playing with me. Granny was in the next room with friends. We heard her laugh, sweet and clear. Pa and I stopped what we were doing to listen. “We haven’t heard that in a long time,” I said to him.

While Granny steeped in the Alzheimer’s, Pa found out that post-polio syndrome accounted for the monotone singing and an occupational therapist helped him tone up his vocal chords (no pun intended) so that he began singing with the choir at his church and even singing specials.

Since Granny left this lifetime, Pa keeps working in the prayer garden. He’s adopted a crazy dog named Bonnie that doesn’t lick anybody with her outrageously long tongue, but appears to lick auras. (It’s unnerving.) Though I hear that he’s not able to eat now because he aspirates, I know he continues to expect me always to be my best and do my best.

And that’s why Pa’s my Miracle Man.

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The Flow: Giving & Receiving

I’ve heard before that, “Giving is better than receiving,” but if it’s such a great blessing to give, then somebody must be a receiver. In this way, joyously receiving becomes a gift back to the giver and giving/receiving becomes a loop, like a Möbius strip, that goes continuously.

I haven’t always been a joyous receiver. Generally speaking, I’ve always tried, but there have been those times—horrific to remember now—like when I was in sixth grade and my grandmother made a bright green velvet dress with a lace collar for me. At first I was overjoyed with what I thought were beautiful cozy pj’s and when I realized it was a dress that I’d be expected to wear in public, I bawled uncontrollably. Poor Granny! I regret that I potentially spoiled her thoughtful act of giving.

On the other hand, is all giving an equally blessed act? I don’t think so. I think sometimes when we give and we expect something in return, we diminish the gift-giving. Children often do this on the playground. “I’ll give you this toy,” the child says, silently thinking, then you’ll have to give me that toy.

Adults do it to, though. Maybe they teach it to children. “Give me a hug, and I’ll give you a cookie,” they tell the toddler. Or like the child they may keep the expected return a secret thought. “I’ll take on the extra job,” a worker may say to her supervisor, thinking, then you’ll have to give me the promotion.

The greatest giving comes without expectations or obligations. Sometimes it’s giving a physical thing like money, a toy, jewelry, etc. and sometimes it’s an intangible thing like listening or a service like doing somebody’s chores for them.

The greatest receiving comes when I freely express joy for the thoughtfulness and caring of the giver and I open myself to receive in the same spirit the gift was given in.

The greatest giving is when I freely give something and release it totally to the receiver without expectation or obligation.

One last closing thought. I find it’s often helpful to practice how I want to treat others by treating myself that way. Can I give freely to myself and then release it? Or do I make myself pay with feeling guilty or self-indulgent? Can I freely express joy to myself for the gift? By learning to give and receive to and from myself, I learn to give and receive to and from others.

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