Raise my hands, paint my spirit gold . . . .
The group Mumford & Sons has released a wonderful album Jim did not have a chance to hear. I cannot stop playing a particular song–“I Will Wait for You“–during my lengthy interstate morning commute, which begins in darkness and turns to daylight by mid-drive.
Mumford & Sons sings of raising hands as a joyful entreaty, a gesture of faith and grace, perhaps offering oneself over to a greater world and power as a kind of salvation. It seems very unlike the needy raised hands which beseech:
. . . . If you are lying
Flat on your back with arms outstretched behind you,
You say you require
Emergency treatment; if you are standing erect and holding
Arms horizontal, you mean you are not ready;
If you hold them over
Your head, you want to be picked up. . . .
This week I’ve been working on a high-octane criminal trial, trying to tend long-distance to a daughter’s dancing injury, slipping in more Schwartz Rounds whenever I can–oh, and trying to finish packing for a move.
I take a break from one stressful experience only to sidle or leap into another.
A 1967 study attached numerical values to stressful life events. Losing a spouse was designated the most stressful, with a value of 100; moving garnered a 20. The study established a correlation between illness and 43 landmark life stresses–many of which are coalescing in my current life.
My Holmes-Rahe life stress inventory seems respectably elevated. (I have always been ultra-competitive.)
Tonight I took a break from other intense events to continue organizing things in order to move.
I have dug through enough layers of family belongings now that I finally uncovered and unsealed a cardboard box that has been on the attic floor for many years. It lay underneath no-longer-towering piles of boxes of things I saved as our children grew. (“Fine emotables” was the label Jim occasionally would scrawl on boxes he retired to the attic, knowing he could never talk me into tossing away anything that captured even a fleeting facet of one of our children; “You know we can never move,” he would say to me, casting his eyes upward in the general direction of the attic.)
I have unpacked layers, from boxes with books and sheets of byzantine mathematics I could not begin to understand and back through time, winding through elementary school projects and infant clothing which I pressed to my face the way I hold clothing that belonged to Jim. I close my eyes and hold the soft cotton to my lips and cheeks and it brings back that time of health and hope. I grieve the loss of that time in our children’s lives in a complicated way.
I cannot believe that I am moving somewhere without Jim.
I found this lonely box (whose cardboard brethren have been relocated) contained artifacts of our life together as it began: letters from each other and from people who remain good friends; the only copy I have of our wedding invitation; some artwork I made for our first home together.
My thesis adviser’s evaluation of my work was in the box. (I shared a thesis adviser with the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and shared many hands of poker as an undergraduate with a current Associate Justice; some fellow alums have had spectacular professional success that no doubt is accompanied by immense stresses of which I cannot conceive. . . . but I had four tens to her aces-over-jacks full house. . . .)
The box contained a copy of the program from Jim’s medical school commencement. When I opened it I realized the identity of the speaker who sagely had advised the new physicians to heed the mayonnaise jar’s creed: “Keep cool, do not freeze.”
It was Dr. Bernard Lown, a cardiologist who identified as a “doctrinal pillar” that a physician “treats not a heart, but a human being who has a heart.” He happens to be the father of the Medical Director of the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Care, who herself facilitates Schwartz Rounds at the hospital where I was born.
The box also contained a wedding veil that now is a veil of tears, big splashes on the lace and on the tissue paper in which it had been wrapped.
Bow my head, keep my heart slow.