If leaving the hospital for work was like going back in time, the short trip home was like visiting the future.
The dreaded railroad crossing was as rough as ever. I hit it too fast, once again, and had to apologize as usual. The green steel beams of the Stones River bridge appeared unchanged. The house and driveway looked exactly the same.
But once we entered the kitchen it was obvious something had changed. Our first hint was the round, oak, kitchen table covered with cookies and homemade candy. New crayon artwork was proudly magnetized to the refrigerator, more evidence of the passage of time.
Suzie was exhausted, both physically and emotionally, from the roller coaster day and just wanted to get into her own bed. As I helped her through the house, I noticed that the Christmas decorations were up, including the tree, which was always my job.
“What can I do for you, Sweetie?” I asked once we got to the bedroom. I’d gotten used to having an entire hospital staff to take care of her. Now that all doctoring and nursing duties fell to me, I felt inadequate to the task. But I was determined to step up my game.
“I just want to take a nap. That’s all,” she answered.
“Really? Nothing to eat or drink? There’s a lot of food in there. I could bring you something.”
“No, really, I’m fine,” she insisted. “Just take care of the kids. That’s all I need.”
“Alright.” An hour ago the world was crashing down around us but now I was dismissed. “Sleep well,” I said, easing the door closed behind me. I had the vague sense of just how weird my life had gotten but there was no time to process the thought.
“Daddy!” A chorus of voices and a flurry of hugs launched excited stories of all that had happened while we were gone. I asked each one what they had done and got three perspectives on each situation. Dad added clarification as needed.
The small house seemed crowded, loud, chaotic and perfectly normal – almost. It was hard to put my finger on the difference. The kids couldn’t have grown in the amount of time we were gone but they seemed more mature. Relating to each other differently.
Further investigation revealed that Rebekah had supervised the decorations. Certainly no big deal for a young woman of her capabilities. But just using the words “young woman” meant that things had moved forward, never to go back again.
I was led into the kitchen and got a detailed menu of the food that had come through the door, along with reviews. Buckeyes, peanut butter dipped in chocolate, were a hit along with homemade divinity. There was a wide assortment of casseroles, meats, and vegetables – not a hit, as expected.
Dad showed me where he’d squeezed everything in the refrigerator and I fixed a plate. Thoughts rattled around in my head during the long seconds while the microwave worked its magic. Having to be shown around my own kitchen finally brought my problem into focus.
There was absolutely nothing wrong. All was as it should be. Things were better than could be expected, considering the circumstances.
But none of it was normal.
Four decades of Christmases had come and gone with familiar rhythms and themes. There was very little choice involved because nothing really changed. And when something did change, the choices about how to adapt had been ours.
Now we were in the wrong state, the wrong city, and the wrong house. We would not be “home” for Christmas. All of our traditions were broken at once. And right now I needed to hang on to something.
But the news was far from all bad.
So many had prayed. People I didn’t know brought food to my door and had taken care of my family. The delicious bite of spiral-cut, honey-baked ham in my mouth came from who knows where? The pure white, homemade divinity was so sweet it almost brought tears to my eyes.
The children seemed happy and unaffected. We had family who loved us and stepped in to help them without drama or complaint. Even though it wasn’t easy or close.
I had no room to complain. As surprising as Suzie’s mysterious health crisis had been, so, too, was the response. So why was I having trouble with it?
Maybe it was pride because I don’t want to bother anyone else or be dependent on them. But this situation was so far beyond my control that I needed every bit of help I could get. And it wasn’t about me. It was about Suzie and the children. No, I had little pride left at this point.
Something else was wrong that I couldn’t quite understand. The relaxation was good but I felt edgy. Jumpy. And when I finally let go I seemed to sink too deeply into a place of soft edges and fog. My dependable energy left me.
After I finished eating and rocked back in my recliner, I seemed to sink in a little too far. Like I suddenly weighed more. It was disturbing for the few minutes that it took to fall into a deep and impenetrable sleep.
My last thought was that love, by nature, is always unexpected. And it leaves the future slightly out of control.