All suffering is not created equal

Friends, my beer of choice for today’s musings is Anger, by Greenbush Brewing.   I may or may not have published a few posts under its influence before, as I may or may not have bordered on ranting with some of my previous writings.  I will try not to vent, but I make no promises. This beverage is undoubtedly in my top five picks: hoppy as hell, yet rich and dark. Then there’s the intoxicatingly high ABV.  Which, I’m not gonna lie, helps to numb a few things, like the persistent hip and foot pain that is currently nipping at me with my every move.  Having two sisters with two hips replaced, it’s almost a foregone conclusion I’m up next on Dr. Frankenstein’s butcher block.  Is it any wonder I get ‘pent-up attitude,” like the label says?  The beautiful thing about being almost fifty- two, though, is that I don’t keep a whole lot “pent up” anymore, and God bless Greenbush for aiding its release.

Some of you know what’s been going on for me in the last month.  An incredible wedding of son and daughter-in-law, and on the heels of that, the wrenching loss of a much-too-young-to-die man: my other son’s best friend and roommate, Mathew.  I turn to my writing for ways to cope with life’s curves, but this event is so all consuming in its vast impact, it’s hard for me to even describe. Mat wasn’t just a buddy to my son.  He was like a brother to him, in every sense except physical.  I’ve posted other writings about Danny here, and obstacles he’s faced; nothing unusual there.  We all have them.  But when it’s your baby that gets knocked down, when you feel like you’ve spent half your life watching it happen, the hurt takes on a whole new level.  Especially when the hatchling has literally just left the nest, his tentative wings spreading the tiniest bit, only to fold and crash onto some pretty hard ground.  Or as one observant friend noted:  “It’s like the proverbial rug just got yanked out beneath his feet.”

Yes.  And I don’t know who is crying more these days, him or me.

Okay, it’s probably me.

I know there’s a silver lining here, somewhere, to be seen when the blinders of grief fade, and I also know in my gut Danny is going to be fine, eventually.  More than fine.

Until that moment, I am kind of…touchy.  And it just so happened that before all this occurred, I’d promised to help my Chicago-homeowner-neighbor pack and move.  Now, this lady is a perfectly nice person, and so is her husband. We have co-existed summerly for at least ten years, extending various courtesies that humans perform to make society tolerable of one another, but that’s as far as the relationship went.  Over the years, we have been happy to help keep an eye on their house or anything else asked of us.

But the timing of this favor from me could not have been worse.  I told her what happened, of course, and she was full of concern.  For about five minutes, anyway.  As perfectly nice as she is, she has this grating, helpless, damsel-in- distress component to her personality.  Maybe it’s from being a lifelong city-dweller; I don’t know.  A couple of years ago, she was forced to learn how to drive (she’s in her fifties) in order to take her husband to doctor appointments, and I swear, you would’ve thought it was the most novel and daunting accomplishment since women got the right to vote.  I couldn’t and didn’t understand her pampered and posh world, nor did I want to.  Most encounters with her usually ended up with me choking back, “Suck it up, buttercup!”

This time it was no different; in fact, it was worse, because of my raw mood.

The packing day commenced with much hand-wringing on her end.  There was the calamity of whether/how-to pack or dispose of the dishware from Italy, the pewter candlesticks from the place in Boulder, the giant picture from friends in the Hamptons, the Cuisinart blenders and coffeemakers…you get the idea.  I swear, I am not making this up or exaggerating.  And let me assure you, if it sounds like I was envious of her jet-setting acquisitions, you are misled.  I’m in a place in my life where envy is not allowed, and I want more stuff like I want a third eye.

“Oh, Ellen, this is such a mess, and I’m a wreck! I can’t decide what to keep, what to get rid of!  It’s awful! I just want to cry!” she wailed after a couple of hours of bubble wrapping crystal.

She was indeed looking like she might do exactly that, and I hoped fervently for both our sakes she wouldn’t. Because if she had, I would’ve conked her over the head with the second or fourth glass cake stand I was holding that day. Because, you know, those can’t go to Goodwill, seeing as how they are so decorative and versatile!  Yes, aren’t they, I agreed nicely, when what I wanted to snarl was that she was not the first being on the face of the earth to ever MOVE, or pack crap not needed into storage, where in all likelihood the damned chopsticks or linen napkins would never see the light of day again.  This was all racing around my mind without a drop of Anger ale in my bloodstream, but she kept going on about what I perceived as nonexistent predicaments.

“Choosing which condo to buy and what to do with your house in Arizona and which consignment shop to take your shit to, and whether you should donate your designer purse, are not problems!” my inner snarling continued, as I dumped more of that same shit into containers.  I mean, I guess they are.  But at that moment, amidst the crystal conundrums, I am thinking about Mat’s family and their Gofund me efforts to raise money for his cremation, I am thinking about his heartbroken aunt, a hardscrabble woman who raised him and has known more than her share of hardship, and it’s all fueling my sadness and irritation.

Thankfully she managed to stave off her tears, and I gritted both my teeth and my imagined scolding into obscurity. I finished helping her, because I’d said I would.  Truly, on any other normal day, I would’ve just laughed it off later and not given it a second thought.  To be fair, she’s not been immune to her share of burdens; she and her husband have faced grave health challenges, and it’s partly why we are quick to assist them in any way we can.  It’s that the “woe is me” act hit the wrong nerve at the wrong time.

The clichéd truth is this: with loss, and the threat of it looming, you should gain perspective and clarity about what matters.  You would think that death or disease would be a “great equalizer,” as it’s purported to be.  I don’t know about that.  Money and status can’t keep illness, tragedy or death at bay, but it can’t be denied that having it in abundance makes all of those things a whole lot easier to bear.  I feel like, in many cases, the insulation wealth brings can dull one’s senses to what authentic suffering really is.  Of course, a debate could be made about who defines “authentic,” but I won’t go there.  It’s my blog, and I define it, and I say giving up a Gucci bag ain’t it.  As ruler of the world here, I  also don’t mean to dismiss or minimize what someone may be going through, or to engage in denial, or to yell that my owie is bigger than yours.  It’s reasonable to expect room for improvement in our government, our lives, and have a (little) pity party once in awhile.  But my patience for artifice and drama, while NEVER sizable, is thinning as fast as my hair these days, I’m sorry to say.  One more neighbor example and I will shut up.  Maybe.

It was something like 8:30 at night when she knocked at our door a couple days ago.

“I am so sorry to bother you,” she said.  She is inevitably polite, and ever grateful, if I haven’t said.

“You’re not,” I said, and it was the truth. We were just laying around watching tv.  “What’s up?”

“It’s my arm.” She pitched both arms up at me. “I kind of knocked this one into the wall, and I want your opinion. Do you think it’s broken, or looks swollen, compared to the other?”

It didn’t, and I said so, but she was visibly upset.  “It just hurts so bad!”

She was bending it effortlessly, and I said although I was no medical expert, I was pretty sure if it was broken or fractured, she wouldn’t be able to do that without unbearable pain.

Again, the intense helplessness: “Oh, I don’t know what to do! I can get in tomorrow in the city, but what if it’s broken?”

“I don’t think it’s broken.”

“But Ellen, feel this bump on this arm, the one I hit.  Please.”

“Okay.”  I obediently touch the spot.  It feels like regular cartilage to me, but how the hell would I know?

“Now, feel my good arm.”

I acquiesce once more, feeling foolish, and I make a snuffling sound.

“It’s not funny!” She actually whines. And I know it’s not funny in any way, because she’s told me before she has severe osteoporosis. But here I am groping her arms, and it’s beyond weird, and I am beyond done.

“Listen, I’m not a nurse,” I say, possibly not very kindly. “Go to the ER if you’re that worried.”

She responds with protests about how they’d never be able to find it, (Fuck me. Really? Who doesn’t have Google Maps?), and how would that work with follow-ups, and blah, blah,blah, and all I can think about then is my other neighbor, my beloved friend of many years who has just been told his cancer is closing in, and I bluntly said: “Well, good luck,” and its all I can do to not shut the door in her face.

“Okay, pray for me, please.  Pray,” she intones as she leaves the steps.

No, pray for me, I think, feeling peevish all over again.

I know, this sounds bad.  I am normally quite a compassionate person. But as I inferred before, life hasn’t been normal lately, whatever that even means.  People are viciously battling over Confederate statues, and reeling from hurricanes and wildfires, with children and animals terrified and lost, and every single second, death is stealing the future’s promises. So, pardon me if I don’t brim with sympathy right now.  Pardon me if  I don’t care about an arm that will most likely be just fine in the care of the best insurance and medical care money can buy at the University of Chicago or Rush or wherever the fuck she goes. (And, guess what? I was right about the damned thing.  She texted me the next day to tell me).

Their move is done, and they are gone, and I can honestly say I probably won’t hear from her again unless I can fulfill a request from one of them. Believe it or not, I do wish them well. Tomorrow, maybe, when the Anger has worn off..

Friends, I wish you all well too, with or without my ale coursing through my veins.  And in these precarious, worrisome times, I paraphrase Zac Brown:  I hope this finds you with everything you need and nothing that you don’t.  (Of course, an amply supply of Michigan craft beer is in the “need” category…but other than THAT, the rest is a lot less than you might think…)