I wrote this post for Thanskgiving. Please mock me, because it is super late, but I just couldn’t post it right away.
This has been a difficult post for me to write, and I have to warn you, it is long.
On the Monday morning (before Thanksgiving), my father had a serious stroke. It started with sudden double vision and quickly progressed not only to inability to move the left side of his body, but also ignorance of its existence.
My dad, who has run every other morning for the past 30 years of his life, could not walk. My dad, who loves good food and wine, could not swallow. My dad, who loves to read everything from Homer to Henry James, could not see straight. My dad, who teaches not only his students and in class, but everyone and always, could not speak.
I found out all of this on Monday evening, and I can say, bar-none, it was the worst feeling I have ever had. Yet as my mom described all of this over the phone, I received the first of a series of calls to GRATITUDE.
This is the story and the list of things I am grateful for this year.
My parents’ marriage
When he suddenly developed double-vision, the first thing my dad did was call my mom and tell her that he needed her to come. And she did. Immediately. When she got there, she knew something was wrong and was about to take him to the Emergency Room. However, seeing that he had lost his left side, she called UD campus safety for an ambulance instead.
UD Campus Safety
Rather than simply calling and directing the ambulance to the correct building at UD, the head of campus safety rushed up to see and help my dad. As soon as he got there, he called back to warn the EMTs that it was a stroke so they would be as prepared as possible.
When they arrived, the EMTs knew not to take him to the nearest hospital or to the the hospital where his GP practices, but rather to the Parkland stroke center.
A Forest of Neurologists
Because of the advance warning of a stroke, my dad was met at the door of the hospital by no fewer than 10 neurologists whose sole responsibility was to figure out the exact time and severity of onset of his stroke BECAUSE…
No. Really. There is a drug that I do not understand, but if taken within a 3 hour window of stoke onset can work miracles. Outside of that window, it is extremely dangerous and can make things worse.
My dad made the window. But, lest you think that 3 hours is plenty of time, let me stress something: he BARELY made the window. Moreover, if he had been taken to the ER, they would not have had access to this drug. If he hadn’t been taken directly to the stroke center, they would not have had access to this drug. If they hadn’t known he was coming, the neurologists would not have finished the necessary tests in time and they would not have had access to this drug. If my mother had not had the courage to say yes to this drug, he would not have had access to this drug.
Remember Dr. Roper? The professor who has been so important both to my and to Teresa’s lives? He has the office down the hall from my father, so when he found out, he called his wonderful wife, who sat her two sons down and began to pray a novena for my father. My mom has the exact time-line, but that is when the miracle medicine began to actually work and my dad began to come back. (Also, my mom would like for me to add that Dr. Roper was also at the Emergency Room 10 minutes after she was, making ready to help in any ways necessary.)
Since that time, my dad has recovered completely. He can read, walk talk, speak Italian, and see. (Actually, just as the double vision was the first to come, and it was the last to go. His double vision finally went away just as he was looking at my mother, and so, paraphrasing something he said after they first met, he said,“You are (the) one.”)
On Tuesday, priest from my parents’ church came, expecting to perform Unction for the Sick. Instead, all there was to do was simply say prayer after prayer of thanksgiving. Because there he was.
My mom said something last night, and it seems so important: “The church understands that we need help with gratitude.”
Really, you would think my father sitting there reading and smiling and talking would be reminder enough of gratitude. Yet, I cannot help realizing that “needing help with gratitude” has two meanings.
1. Employed, blessed, loved, and sheltered as I am, I constantly forget to be grateful.
2. Even when we remember to be grateful, sometimes it is so terrifying to know how. Gratitude is frightening.
Somehow I always forget the root word of both “grace” and “gratitude” is gratis – free gift.
There is nothing more frightening than to receive a truly free gift and to really feel the freeness and unmerited-ness. To be truly grateful.
There is a wildness in God’s mercy and grace.
I think that is why it is so important to have a day set aside for Thanksgiving. Real gratitude is terrifying. In giving thanks, we are placing ourselves in the hands of God, to receive his gifts, awesome (and I really mean the “AWE” part) though they be.
It should be easy for me to simply accept the simplicity of by blessings this year: my daddy is still here. Yet, that is not enough. I think that there is a wild and terrifying abandon in real gratitude, reflected in the benediction of Job:
“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” Job 1:21
So, in this Year of Faith and season of preparation and thanksgiving, I would like to ask your help with gratitude. For the Grace of the Lord is free, unfettered, unmerited, magnificent, and there can be only one response – gratitude.
In my conversion to Catholicism, there was a professor who would repeat over and over “100% grace. 100% human effort” as his explanation for salvation. I totally agree, but sometimes, I think that the human effort part is the effort to recognize everything as a gift and a potential grace.
Happy (BELATED) Thanksgiving and Blessed be the Name of the Lord!