by Kevin Burton
One day at the Ohio State School for the Blind, my roommates and I put a sign on our door: “No houseparents allowed.”
We were two fourth graders and a third grader, establishing boundaries, setting up rules.
In due time the houseparent, Kitty Thomason, walked by and read our sign with great delight. I forget what she said, but she smiled broadly, walked into our room and chatted with us for a few minutes.
She didn’t say “you can’t keep me out of here” but her mere presence in the room, without fear or apology, made that abundantly clear.
We had to change our plans.
Plans. Modest plans, big old plans, whatever. From on high, God takes note of our plans and nullifies them when He sees fit, no discussion.
Kitty Thomason wasn’t God, though she did read us the 23rd Psalm some nights (try doing that in a school setting these days).
The point is, I wasn’t in charge then and I am not in charge now.
This statement of the obvious is a follow-up to our 10th wedding anniversary, which came and went Thursday without living up to even the modest plans we had set for it.
On Wednesday night we were minutes away from launching into our mini celebration when Jeannette’s phone rang.
Her mother had fallen in the parking lot of the assisted living facility she just moved into two weeks before. She wasn’t able to get up and was on her way to the emergency room by ambulance.
We scrambled to get ready go 90 minutes to Hutchinson to face God knows what.
Later we found out Jeannette’s mother had taken one false step. The way the shadows were falling obscured a curb to the point where she didn’t see it, stepped wrong, fell, and broke her hip.
One bad step and we all had to change our plans.
For my mother-in-law there was physical pain and uncertainty. She said she had to wait half an hour in a hard, cold wind for an ambulance. She must have been wondering why she had to go through this without her husband of 68 years, who died less than a year ago.
For my wife and her siblings there was very high stress. It’s the stress that comes from being powerless to help a loved one who desperately needs it.
Though the hip surgery was successful, you never know what level of mobility an older person will regain after a trauma like that. So the family will be watching and praying through the upcoming physical therapy.
We’re hoping this is just an interruption in her plans to be active and have a high quality of life, not a permanent change in those plans.
As for me, on my 10th wedding anniversary I spent almost as much time with Robin Meade, CNN Headline News morning show host, as with my wife. Only two visitors allowed at a time at the hospital. That would be Jeannette and her sister Sue, who drove up with her husband from Oklahoma.
So I had a Fairfield Inn breakfast by myself, a heaping helping of real life, no discussion.
Back in the room I noticed that there were two pictures leaning against the wall that nobody had hung up. They were non-descript pictures that wouldn’t offend anybody.
There was no Bible and no little book with information about who could be called to deliver pizza or Chinese food. No phone book. The safety information was on the door but there was no information about the motel’s amenities.
There was a wooden storage and shelving unit that housed the microwave and refrigerator, the tiny closet that had an ironing board but no iron. The unit didn’t reach all the way to the ceiling, which made me curious.
So I dragged a chair over, carefully climbed on it so I could see over the top. This is the kind of thing I ask Jeannette not to do. There was a hotel towel on top, some cardboard and plastic trash. I threw that away, feeling good that I had helped clean up a bit.
There was a little plastic bag up there with two screws inside. It’s the kind of thing you have left over after you put something together without reading the instructions.
So I then started wondering what piece of furniture in our rented room was just this side of collapsing, maybe with me on it, for lack of two screws.
Around checkout time I was shuttled to my mother-in-law’s apartment, where I spent most of the day with my wife’s sister’s husband. We talked through a sleep-deprived day, fielding texted news of two significant delays in the surgery time.
It was a long, exhausting day, which led to another long, exhausting day. Now I’m conflicted.
I wasn’t the one with a broken hip. What do I have to complain about? But I was late in life to this marriage thing, which makes me want to savor every moment of it. The cancelled 10th anniversary celebration is a deep disappointment, no discussion.