The Most Unlikely Discovery

Anyone who has ever moved from here to there understands the challenges of upending a life or otherwise turning it upside down for a defined and usually unpleasant period of time.  The longer you are in one place, the greater the likelihood that your stuff outplays, outweighs and overwhelms.  Paring down and packing it up is not for the faint of heart. Reinforcements are often required.

My move from a house of 20+ years was months in the making.  More trips to Goodwill than I cared to count, dusty disposals in droves.  And yet there always seemed to be another room to prune or box to plunder.  That’s when I called Gloria, the undisputed master of the discard.  I had reached my limit.  To her credit, she knew this.  “Gallagher, I got you,” she’d say before shoo-ing me from my home and, like a modern-day samurai, then ruthlessly used her weapons to jettison the clutter.

When she was ready, she would call me back to the house allowing me to see with wonder how she had magically eliminated whole rooms of stuff.  I didn’t ask what she did or where it went.  She’d then instruct me to review the contents of certain places or boxes and I always did as instructed.  “Those boxes over there Gallagher,” she said as she pointed to an area in the basement.  “Those you need to go through before we throw them out.”

It was a tedious chore, sorting through pictures or clothes that no longer fit or papers you’d just “hold-on-to-because” or reminders of life-gone-by.  Gloria had the unique ability to only present me with the pertinent things; which along the way eased the emotions of letting go of things and taking only the necessary parts for a new life.

And, then, there it was.  A yellowed paper in a nondescript folder among mismatched things.  “Attending Physician’s Statement,” it read in simple typeface, dated 3-9-1965. My hand shook ever so slightly.  This was impossible.  I had searched for documents related to my burns for years.  St. Vincent Hospital told me they had destroyed the original records related from 1964-1965.  Dr. Lynn and Dr. von Heimburg’s offices had long since closed and disposed of the old records.  It was only from the office of Dr. Hoops, who took over my care around 1966 after Dr. Lynn’s death, that I received any sort medical records.  But never, never anything from the original incident.

I was looking at a document that shouldn’t have existed.  One that in all these years, and throughout this search, I had never seen much less known was in my possession.  Could it be that when my brothers and sisters and I cleaned out my parents’ home in 1997 after their deaths that this document was simply put in a box assigned to me?

I was dumbfounded and spellbound at the same time.

“Third degree burn of the right leg and buttock, involving 12% of the body surface area,” it read and then listed nine various procedures from December 2, 1964 through January 12, 1965, and six more office visits through March 9, 1965, conveniently offered at “no charge”.

“Patient is still under Dr.’s care,” it concluded.

This was Dr. von Heimburg’s invoice to the insurance company, Sun life Assurance Company of Canada.

Sometimes when you are not looking, you find the very thing you need.

This yellowed document confirmed the stories I’d heard and the memories I’d had.  It’s one thing to believe something is true because you are told that, even when you can touch your own scars. It’s another to see and touch the documentation of it.

A blurry baby’s memory is true.

“Gloria,” I called out.  “You are not going to believe what you found for me…….”.

Imagine if my modern-day samurai of disposal had thrown it out?  Instead, she saved something-I-didn’t-know-I-had for me.  God bless Gloria.

Next up:  Dr. Lehman tells me my pediatric burn survival rate.

 

 

Tinkerbell Returns

Tinkerbell Returns

Tinkerbell Returns

“We remember what we understand; we understand only what we pay attention to; we pay attention to what we want.” – Edward Bolles

In The Return of the Little Men, I was “reunited” with some miniature Disney characters given to me as a gift when I was burned.

It’s hard to describe my utter glee upon seeing what I endearingly called the ‘little men’. The thrill wasn’t based on the fact of the toys themselves but the reality that they not only existed but that I remembered them from childhood.

When you have a hazy memory and are not sure if it’s real or imagined, there is real joy in things that confirm you are not a crazy person, making up silly memories or doing what therapists call ‘creative reimagination‘.  For me, the trauma of being burned was like a bad dream sequence — foggy, missing pieces, unreal, as if I am holding my breath.  When I can connect with something real from the experience, I can breathe.   I am sure there is a psychological theory to explain why this is important to me but I don’t know what it is.  It is important and that’s enough for me.

I was so happy to reconnect with the little men that it didn’t even cross my mind whether all the pieces in the set had in fact ‘come home’.

“Oh, I found Tinkerbell,” was what Susie said to me, some time after she’d given me the set of little men.

Tinkerbell?  It had no context.

“I was looking in my old high school jewelry box for my claddagh ring and there she was.  Tinkerbell.  Right in that jewelry box.”

Tinkerbell?  Yes, Tinkerbell — she was the jewel of the set!  As a three year-old girl, Tinkerbell was my particular favorite.  For months as I was immobile, re-learning how to walk, I remember sitting on my bed and playing with all the little men.

When I went to collect Tinkerbell from Susie’s house, it was shocking how small she was.  She stood less than an inch tall, even with her blue wings fully extended.

I’m amazed at what turns up when you open the door to your memories.  Forty years later, Tinkerbell and her entourage of little men return from long-ago packed-up things and jewelry boxes from high school.  I keep them on my desk at home.  When you ask, you can receive.  The key is being open to what chooses to return.

Book Review: My Father’s Writings

 

For as long as I’ve known Jim Durham, he’s been a man who’s scribbled his writings and presentations on cocktail napkins.  In every conversation, you see his mind running a million miles a minute and you just know he’s inspired to think about something new, explore a different direction and somehow find a way to put it all together for you.

That’s what he’s done in My Father’s Writings:  An Inspiring Journey through Life, Love and a Lifetime of Memories (Balboa Press, 2012).  He’s collected and compiled years of his Holiday Letters, musings, poems and heart-felt stories into a single book.  While the writings are pure Jim, he uses a third-person literary device wherein a “son” compiles the “father’s” writings after the father’s untimely death in an air plane crash.  As Jim describes in the epilogue, “I think I needed to write about my writings in the third person to be comfortable with the inevitable, deeply personal revelations that flow from these words.”

Knowing an author personally changes the way you read the book.  In My Father’s Writings, I remembered some of the same stories Jim shared with me when we met at industry conferences or client meetings.  Sometimes, the “son” and the “father”  roles confused me — I knew in fact both were Jim’s alter egos.  Mostly though I was impressed with the time it must have taken to organize his various writings and then string them together in a story line.

The more I read, the more I confirmed that Jim and I are kindred spirits — seeking meaning in everyday actions and trying to find places for heart-rendering life events.  He tells the stories of his broken heart and joy in finding new love, in losing a child and adapting to life with a special-needs son.  We read about his professional success and fears of being good enough.  Through it all, Jim writes and these writings fill the book and punctuate his stories. He’s written a Holiday Letter for years (and I’m usually on the distribution list) that tries to make sense of life events and share connections between friends.  He shares the voice he’s found in making motivational speeches.  And he shares his hopes and dreams for how his writings might touch people.

“Have you ever thought about what your message would be to your family if you knew you were going to die,” Jim writes.  “Am I the only one who thinks about these things?”  No, Jim, there are lots of us like you — who wonder if we make a difference, who question our path and who appreciate how connected we all are.

It’s a lovely read.

My Father’s Writings is available at amazon.com

 

Perspective From the Newspapers

The first roll of microfilm threaded through the library’s reader as if it were on a mission to be viewed.  I smiled, hopeful that with a new set of film covering five months of the 1965 Green Bay Press-Gazette from there would be some clue about my childhood accident — was there even a fire call?

I’d already viewed a year of Green Bay Press-Gazettes from 1964 and found absolutely nothing.  This didn’t completely discourage me since my mother had made entries in my baby book about the accident’s dates as both November 1964 and 1965.  Other than those baby book entries, the stories I’d heard and the whispers behind cupped hands, the only empirical verification I had of my burned leg accident was the leg itself.

“Annie, why are you looking for this stuff?” my friend Mr. Baum asked me in his endearing but quizzical manner.  “Are you not quite right in the head?” he chided.   As a reporter, Mr. Baum asked questions for a living for more than 40 years.  They were questions worth posing.

Even though I felt confident that the stories I’d heard about burning my leg on a stove at age two were probably right-on-the-money accurate, I couldn’t help but look for some verification outside of the pool of relatives who served as my sources.

“There are some things a person just wants to know.”  It wasn’t the most scientific of answers but it seemed to quiet Mr. Baum, at least for the time being.

The microfilm reader hummed as I paged through images of the newspaper from 40 some years ago.  My mother’s entries in my baby book said that in August I put my hand to the stove and burned it, a spooky foreshadowing of the larger injury to come.  But the August newspapers didn’t carry a fire call and it was more likely than not that this burn was treated at home or the doctor’s office.

As the November dates approached, I felt tension.  Would it matter one way or the other if there was a news item or fire call on Tuesday, November 23rd?  I knew it wouldn’t but kept paging through the microfilm just to check.  “Clearing and cold tonight.  Low near 23 degrees,” was the weather report for that day.

An annual solar eclipse occurred November 23, 1965. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun, thereby totally or partially obscuring the image of the Sun for a viewer on Earth.   Depending on which literature you read, “eclipses are dramatic tools the universe uses to create change (http://www.astrologyzone.com/eclipses/).  A solar eclipse is always a new moon and in astrology tends to mark new beginnings,” explains the astrologer Susan Miller.

Solar eclipse of November 23, 1965
SE1965Nov23A.png

Any news of my accident was eclipsed as well.  There was no mention.  Not on the November 23rd, not on the 24th and not on the 25th, which was Thanksgiving Day.

For a moment I felt sad and stared ahead at the microfilm reader, only half-reading the Thanksgiving Day editorial.  “On Thanksgiving Day, Americans need to give thanks for weathering national perils, and for the victories we have achieved over disease, hunger and the inhumanity of war.  America has come a long way since that landing day in 1629…..Be not therefore anxious for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient onto the day is the evil thereof.”  If you took the 1965 date off the editorial, it would have been just as relevant today.

In my case, the morrow indeed took care of itself.  I’ve been blessed with good health, good work and good friends.  My accident shaped me but never defined me.  I couldn’t say the same for my parents, gone since the 1990s.  From everything I learned, the accident changed them and their relationship for the rest of their days.  I was oblivious to it until I started searching around for clues in the last couple years.

I thought of what their Thanksgiving Day 1965 would have been like, with a child in the hospital and no assurance she would live.    I couldn’t imagine it.  I didn’t want to imagine it.  When I started searching microfilm, I was looking for my own perspective.  But the newspapers found a way to give me theirs.

It didn’t seem to matter much that I hadn’t found a news item or fire call in the newspapers.  In fact, now I was kind of glad none appeared.  My heart ached for my parents.

Book Review — Maps, Frogs, Artists: What’s Right for You?

As a new feature on Anne on Fire, I am now reviewing books from Hay House authors.  www.hayhouse.com   I was not financially compensated for this post. I received the book from Hay House for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

The Map: Finding the Magic and Meaning in the Story of our Life
Colette Baron-Reid

 The Map: Finding the Magic and Meaning in the Story of Your Life

“We change the world from the inside out, and that’s why I’ve written this book,” explains Colette Baron-Reid in the introduction to her book, The Map:  Finding the Magic and Meaning in the Story of Your Life.  It’s a theme that has resonated with me since the early 1980s when my sister Susie gave me a copy of Frogs into Princes: Neuro Linguistic Programming by Richard Bandler (Paperback – June 1979).  The theme reappeared in the 1990s when I began reading Sonia Choquette’s (www.soniachoquette.com) work about spirit and the way we can consciously raise our vibrations. The theme returned to my desk again a couple of years ago when I finally read and followed the daily writing instructions in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (www.theartistsway.com). 

That the confluence of all the thoughts and theories from these other books flowed forward while reading The Map made it a truly integrated and enjoyable experience, even if I doubt I’ll follow the exercises to the letter of the law like I did with The Artist’s Way.  The beauty of books like Baron-Reid’s for me is partly in gaining a peek inside someone else’s creativity and ways of coping.

In The Map, Baron-Reid suggests we become our own oracles and traverse through a metaphorical map of life’s archetypical characters and situations to find personal peace and meaning.  Her magic lands, wands and companions remind me that there is no one best way to do anything; but that finding a talisman that works to put life in context at the different points of our lives is something valuable.  

Neuro-linguistic programming co-founders, Richard Bandler and linguist John Grinder, believed that NLP would be useful in “finding ways to help people have better, fuller and richer lives.  They advocated the potential for self-determination through overcoming learned limitations and emphasized well-being and healthy functioning. Artist’s Way author Julia Camera challenged the label of being a called creativity expert, explaining, “My books are not creative theory,” she explains. “They spring straight out of my own creative practice. In a sense, I am the floor sample of my own tool kit. When we are unblocked we can have remarkable and diverse adventures.”

In the same way, Baron-Reid is her own magic wand, sharing how the techniques in the book brought together the threads of her own story and gave them meaning.  An addict, the daughter of a closet Holocaust survivor, a bulimic and an intuitive, she says she sought out her own way to heal her life.  Her hybrid approach to doing so is The Map and by her own words, it was a process that transformed her.

Both Cameron and Baron-Reid are alcoholics and I was struck by how they both have created worlds of somewhat strict context for themselves and for the price of the books, for others.  Cameron’s The Artist’s Way has sold more than 2 million copies so certainly her disciplined approach to bringing out the artist within can work.  While I agree that creating a framework is useful, I personally like to hop between approaches and try out any number of them, not getting too fixed on any one for too long.  I prefer being more of a self-awareness dabbler and that is why I liked Baron-Reid’s book.  It seemed that she too has dabbled and in The Map, brings together her favored outcomes to guide her life.

For any student of self-awareness, that is the challenge:  How to find the kernels of both structure and meaning so that you feel good in your own skin and confident on your journey.  To my way of thinking, it doesn’t matter whether you follow a map or NLP or an artist’s way – and they may actually be the same things just packaged in different ways.  What matters is the self-awareness and for that, The Map may just be your key.

The Map is available for purchase on the Hay House website http://www.hayhouse.com/details.php?id=5286 as well as at www.amazon.com  and www.barnesandnoble.com.

Making Sense of Stories

Paperback book cover illustration, I Know Why ...

Image via Wikipedia

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou. http://www.mayaangelou.com 

If you’ve ever read any of Maya Angelou’s books, you gain an incredible perspective into the courage of telling a life story.  “A bird doesn’t tell a story because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song,” she wrote in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first of her autobiographical series.  Her books captivate with their beautiful prose and at the same time made me squirm with the honesty in which she recounts her life, particularly her days as a prostitute.  I’ve heard her speak live and it’s amazing — she brings her books to life with her spoken voice.

I thought of her courage this week as I heard two burn stories.  My friend Renee’s aunt, on an oxygen machine, lit a cigarette and suffered second degree burns over her face.  Within days, I heard the story of a teenager from the kid’s school, who bent over a stove and her scarf caught fire torching her chest and neck.  Both are in the hospital.

It’s hard not to think of their searing pain.  It’s harder not to think about how they and their families handle both the emotions and the re-telling of the stories.  I know from my own experiences that until I can put the emotional framework in place, I can’t tell a story.  It always takes time for the “shock factor” to process and events to become clear before a story unfolds.  I wonder if it was the same for Maya Angelou — that the time that passed before she told her stories gave her the perspective to truly see the context of the events.

Maybe this is just the way we tell stories.  Even this week we saw a glimpse of it with the Osama bin Laden storyline.  Quickly we learn the news – bin Laden is dead.  Then, the next day we receive a new update, a revision as the true facts become clearer – yes dead, but he had no human shield as previously reported.  Then, each of the next days of the week, we find out a little bit more – he has been hiding in plain sight, there are the makings of another terror plot, this time using the US rail road system.

Life comes at us in pieces and parcels.  It’s our job to make sense of it all.  It’s a big job.  Story telling might just bring it all together.