It’s been a rough couple weeks at the Veeder Ranch. After a bad bout of pancreatitis, three surgeries and a week and a half hospital stay in the big town, dad’s finally home resting up and probably making plans to do things he shouldn’t be doing yet.
We’re shipping calves on Thursday and, well, there’s lots to do to get ready for that. So it wasn’t great timing for my daughter to come down with this weird flu all last week where she would trick you into thinking she was just fine, twirling around in her dress and bowing like a princess, right before snuggling into your arms and barfing all over you. I brought her in to the doctor on Monday for a rash and then again at the end of the week because I thought she was going to starve to death for lack of food hitting the bottom of her stomach.
And then she gave it to me, the little darling. So yeah, having the flu at 8 months pregnant, now I know how that feels. My husband had to take a couple days off work to deal with the ailing, whining females in the house, pushing back his plans to build corrals and move cows home after work in preparation for this week. And for those of you who don’t understand the daylight savings time thing we have happening up here in the winter, we get daylight now only until about 5:15 pm, so there’s not much time for ranchers who also work a day job to get much done after work.
Anyway, the man didn’t complain. But then he got the flu himself and all I can say is that sounds about right. ‘Tis the season.
Isn’t it interesting how much we take our health for granted until it slams us hard and reminds us that it can stop us in our tracks? All the big plans we’ve made don’t mean much when you can’t get up out of bed, and in the case of dad, in our most uncertain moments of the ordeal, whether or not he ever would again.
And in these moments, when we’re at our most vulnerable, it’s when the littlest things have the most impact. My aunt made several two hour trips to the hospital, for example, to be there for my mom when we couldn’t. My uncles are coming this week to help with the cattle. And that is something they think is a little thing that they can do, but it’s a big thing. A very big thing.
Because it goes the other way too, in times of crisis and worry and sleep deprivation, the small inconveniences in life, the bad news on television, a rude or misplaced comment that may have otherwise rolled off your back, those poke and grate harder and can become unreasonably unbearable, because there’s no more room to place them.
You’re already carrying a much too-heavy thing.
So that’s what this week’s column is about. It’s about the moments that make the heavy things feel a bit lighter and how simple it is to choose to be kind in spite of it all. Because often we think that having faith takes the form of big, complicated, grand miraculous gestures, scriptures and the regiment of religion, but I think more than all of that, it’s inside of us. And when you choose to be a light, well, maybe that’s the way angels work.
She took his hand and looked him square in the eyes as he lay there in the hospital bed, in pain, worried and frustrated. His thoughts and words were clouded under the mask of painkillers, and it was her job to check his vitals, help manage his pain and answer his family’s questions about what was going on in our dad’s body.
Seeing him in that hospital bed, the man who was in his wool cap and on a horse just days before, laying there so vulnerable and sick brought back too many memories of that long January night just three years ago when his heart tore and we nearly lost him.
Could we be there again? How much agony should we put into this moment that turned into a week of waiting in that hospital room with him? Because worrying and calling the nurse is all a person can do in moments of helplessness.
I’m not sure I’ve said it out loud before, but I’ll say it here: I think I might believe in angels.
Maybe not in the literal sense, where they swoop down from heaven with outstretched wings — I don’t think it’s as theatrical as that.
But I think I’ve seen them inhabit the shape of things here, if only for the moments in which we need them — the body of a good dog, a well-timed breeze, an outstretched hand — all small things with the capacity to restore, if only briefly, a worn-out faith in this place.
I’ll confess these days my faith has been waning. With this world growing smaller, and so many words thrown out and scattered recklessly, it’s hard to escape the cruelty that humans choose to inflict on one another. It’s wearing me out and making me sad and scared.
I’ve seen the price people pay for anger and hatred; we’ve all seen it reported to us, seemingly, hour by hour. But that morning that nurse looked into my dad’s eyes and rubbed his arm in a genuine attempt to bring him comfort, I knew I was witnessing an angel moment, one that nurse pulled out effortlessly in the hectic and so very unglamorous demands of her day. It’s her job, yes, but it would be much easier for her to make her rounds, do her duty and keep her heart out of it.
I imagine it would certainly keep her schedule on better track.
And as it turns out now, my dad’s going to be OK. His ailment was excruciating, but his life’s not in danger. And for that we’re grateful.
But the whole ordeal has worn on our nerves and made us less patient with the little things because of the weight of the big thing we’ve been carrying for days on end.
Yet I vowed in the hospital hallway to take a cue from Dad’s nurse, so I offered a smile and directions to the cafeteria to a man who looked lost, because Good Lord, aren’t we all?
If the cost of kindness is nothing but a few minutes, I’m willing to pay it forward, out of respect for those angels.