Shot Karma

Injections are one of many ways to administer ...

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My husband Brian likes to remind me that life is like a karma credit card — it’s far better to add as many credits as you can to your card of life because the debits will inevitably come along.  Having been the recipient of thousands of injections through many years of surgeries, medical check-ups and blood draws, I knew what it was like to get a shot, to feel the anticipation of a needle prick.  As time went on, I’d become queasy at the very thought of a needle and grew accustomed to looking away while some kind nurse or practitioner went about their business of sticking me.  It takes practice to be the patient and I thought I’d become quite good at it.  I never wanted to be on the other side.

But this week, Brian told me that he had a procedure on the horizon and as a part of it, had to have twice daily injections.  He pulled out a plastic bag of pre-filled syringes and handed it to me, intimating that I become chief injector.   My stomach turned somersaults.   There was no way I could do this.

As my yoga teacher Cynthia has told me, life has a way of touching you on the shoulder when it’s your turn.  As I examined every angle of how to get out of giving Brian his shots, I realized there was no way out.  The karma of shots had come my way.    For many years I had taken them, adding debits to my karma credit card.  Now it seemed, it was time to add some credits to that card.

As the moment approached,I over-thought my new role.  Then, I remembered a passage from the book, Surfing the Himalayas:  A Spiritual Adventure  (www.himalayas.com), “Thoughts should have a place in your life of course, but it should be a very small place.  To really  know something, in order to see its perfection and to become part of that perfection, you must become the action that you seek to perfect.”

Brian handed me the needle.   As if I’d done it all my life, I took it, flicked the tip and watched droplets of fluid fall out, then plunged it into the folds of stomach Brian gathered with his hand and depressed the plunger, feeling the tension of liquid pouring into his body and out of the syringe.  We both exhaled. 

From nursed to nurse.  Karma isn’t always supposed to come full circle in a single lifetime but it felt that way.  I’d repeat the same anticipation, the same motion for three more days.  I didn’t want to perfect this action by any means.  Still, I found a way to become one with it.  If nothing else, I felt it was my turn to do it.

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Sister Mary Pastry and the Virgin Mary’s Appearance

French Fruit Tarte

As regular visitors to Chesterton, Indiana‘s European Market (www.chestertonseuropeanmarket.com) on Saturday’s, we’ve seen the pastry stand for years, nestled among the fruit and vegetable stands and directly across from the cheese stand.  It’s a curiosity in the heat of summer, staffed by a nun in full black habit and displaying an array of delicious French pastries, brioche, croissants, fruit tarts and the like.   When we passed by the stand and my kids asked, “Who is that nun?” I said the first thing that came to mind, “Oh, why that’s Sister Mary Pastry,” and immediately felt the heavy burden of Catholic guilt for making fun of a nun in full habit.  The name stuck.

When we visited the market last, I brought Mack my older son who usually prefers to sleep in on Saturday mornings.  As we passed the pastry stand, he paused to inspect the goodies and that’s when we realized that Sister Mary Pastry was French but spoke English well.  Excited, Mack turned to me and said, “Mom, speak to her in French.”  I hesitated, not wanting to pull out my limited French from study abroad in Paris and Aix-en-Provence from years ago.

“Oh, you speak French?” Sister smiled and we began a conversation in mixed French and English.  “How did you come to sell pastries at the market?” I asked.  Sister’s story unfolded.  Fraternite Notre Dame (www.fraternitenortredame.org), a French-based order with a mission of serving the poor, has its mother house in Chicago’s underserved Austin neighborhood.  As a way to raise funds for the order, the nuns began baking pastries to sell in the Chicagoland area.  The proceeds support their soup kitchen and other ministries for the poor. 

Jean Marie, the order’s bishop, is a mystic with internal stigmata.  Sister told me that in 1977, the Virgin Mary appeared to Jean Marie with spiritual messages to pass along to the faithful.  Now, on the 14th of every month, the Bishop celebrates the Mass of the Apparition at 5 a.m. at their Chicago church, 502 N. Central Avenue.  During the mass, Virgin Mary appears to the Bishop, delivering messages, graces and often miraculous healings.

“Would you like to come to our mass?” Sister asked me.  “Please come.  You would like it.”

The next mass is July 14th.  I plan to attend.

Making Sense of Stories

Paperback book cover illustration, I Know Why ...

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“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.

Please. A Pleaser?

It wasn’t until I talked to my Aunt Mary that I fully understood how I’d become a pleaser, and I wasn’t really pleased about it.  Not that having a pleasing behavior is always a bad thing; it’s just that I’d never pieced together this aspect of myself in quite this way until I spoke with Aunt Mary.  Aunt Mary is my mom‘s only sister and since my mother’s death, seemed a ripe source of information about my accident.  Yet, the conversation was uncomfortable.  As we talked, it seemed to me that Aunt Mary was going out of her way to not blame my mother, since the accident did indeed occur on her watch.  As my mom ironed in the basement and my sister Susie played nearby, I snuck up to the kitchen to get some crackers, secreted away above the stove.  “Aunt Mary, the accident was my fault,” I told her.  “I knew what I was doing and remember doing it.  I have no one to blame but myself.”  Aunt Mary seemed taken aback and heartily disagreed.  “Annie,” she said with exasperation, “It was not your fault.  You were two years old.  How could it ever have been your fault.”  Her words hung in the air.   I thought about them for a long time. 

For the first time in my life, my perspective changed.  For the better part of my life, I felt guilty about the accident, believing that I had caused my own fate and was forever doomed to be responsible for it, which I must add, I always have been.  I rarely felt sorry for myself, fully rehabilitated myself and developed a persona of never letting other people down.  In my young mind, I reasoned that because no one talked about the accident, particularly my family, they knew what I had done and how stupid it had been.  I pledged to myself never to let my family down again…..and became a pleaser.  Straight A’s.  Editor of the school newspaper.  Athlete.  Generally good person.

Aunt Mary’s words had such power and made so much sense.  When I thought of my own children as two-year-olds, I’d marvel how the train was in motion, but the conductor was rarely home, which is to say, they didn’t know enough to be responsible for much.  Yet I didn’t give my small self the benefit of that doubt.  In fact, I’d never thought of it any other way than that it had been my fault.  In my mind’s eye, whether I’d created the memory from strands of conversation or whether I actually remembered it, I saw myself going up those basement stairs and heading for the stove.

The power of not talking about it meant that I had to give myself an answer however far-fetched it might be when I examined it as an adult.

How might my answer have changed if the event would have been processed this way as a child?  How might my behavior have changed?  These days my pleaser tendencies are not so noticeable and I like to think of myself squarely as a “B+”, hardly a type A anymore.  Age mellows me.  Exploration like this frees me.

Getting My Voice On

Some people might find getting burned in a fire difficult to connect with how, when and why I became an actor but that is essentially part of my story line and are inextricably linked.  As the burn story goes, my sister Susie always told me how she “smelled” me from her perch in the basement that morning and told my mom who was ironing away down there with her to check on me. There she found me, stuck to and burning on the stove. As Susie tells the story, I was silent. Not crying out or calling for help. It seems I had lost my voice.

 So today when I voiced tags* for 29 tv commercials across the country, I silently counted my blessings. A number of years ago, I found my voice and I don’t think I would have realized it had I not gone through the fire. The story is too long for a single post but this blog helps me tell it in my stylish, compartmentalized way.  Even this snippet focuses me on two things:  1) I need to have another conversation with sister Susie to see if the wives tale I’d heard is still her story today; and 2) Soren Kierkegaard‘s quote mirrors my own thoughts these days, “Life can only be understood backward but it must be lived forward.”