aneurysm, Atticus Finch, Best conversation of the week, children dealing with illness, HAWMC, Health Writing Activist Monthly Challenge, mastectomy, social media, To Kill a Mockingbird, tom waits, WEGO
Today’s WEGO Health Activist Writer’s Month challenge is to recap an awesome conversation I had this week, perhaps in the form of a script. I’ve had all kinds of conversations this week, some inspirational some not so much. Not all have been pleasant, and not all have required me to be physically present. I have taken turns at talking and listening, but between Twitter and Skype, Facebook and social media in general, I am quickly coming to appreciate that conversation in the 21st century is a complex thing, involving so much more than the exchange of ideas and opinions between people in the same space. Not too late, my definition of conversation has expanded to include reading and writing and trying to make a salient point in less than 140 characters. Sometimes, when I can’t keep up in a Tweetchat, I follow along, agreeing or disagreeing, but not quickly enough. So it feels not unlike eavesdropping.
Eavesdropping has become quite acceptable today in a variety of contexts. How many times have we wondered about the person on the other end of the line as we listen to one side of a conversation? The stranger in front of us at the Post Office, complaining to the person on the other end of the line about something somebody shouldn’t have worn, or maybe someone like my daughter at the grocery store, who resorts to using her cellphone to take a picture of a shelf bearing different brands of the same product, and subsequently sends a text asking which one her dad should buy. Then there’s the woman whose bluetooth headset you don’t notice immediately and instead you think she might possibly be quite mad as she strides though the mall, gesticulating wildly, and scolding the air around her. This week, it was through eavesdropping that I encountered a one-sided conversation, the kind of talk that made me proud to be my daughter’s mother.
Late yesterday afternoon, we decided to go to Target. I reminded my daughter to grab her phone, because mine had died. As usual. As we were heading out the door, she noticed a text from one of her school-friends: “Hey people, I am at the hospital and I really need someone to talk to just to take my mind away from where I am.” My daughter, immediately concerned, decided she would call from the car. From her responses, I surmised that her friend was in a hospital waiting room, providing moral support for a mutual friend with an immediate family member who was undergoing major surgery.
As I drove along the freeway, I could sense my daughter’s anxiety increase. She listened more than she talked, and when the time seemed appropriate, she offered advice. There was the mention of a little girl – perhaps 3 or 4 years old – and an exclamation from my daughter that life can so unfairly and cruelly disrupt the life of young children. I assumed the little girl was a younger sibling not yet aware of what was going on in the hospital. My daughter drew from her own experience, “When I was little,” she confided, “my dad had an aneurysm, but my parents didn’t tell me. They didn’t want me to freak out I guess.” She’s right. We didn’t tell her. We didn’t want our little girl, at the time just 8, to know anything other than a life characterized by constancy and security.
For exactly the same reason, I was one of those mothers who picked her up when she was a baby the very minute she started crying at night. My mother encouraged me to do so, often telling me there would be plenty of times as an adult when my daughter would have to cry alone. But I was wholly unprepared for her crying in the middle of the night, without me there to comfort her, at just fourteen. Only 11 weeks ago, in fact, as I lay in the ICU, following a mastectomy and DIEP flap reconstruction surgery.
As I continued to eavesdrop on my 14 year old daughter’s phone conversation, I was glad of the radio. With the familiar chords of Tom Waits “Blue Skies” in the background, my darling girl tenderly consoled her friend and offered this suggestion on how they might best support the little girl they were both so fond of:
“Don’t force yourself to be happy. It’s too hard. Call me if you need me. Think about how to make her happy. She’s just so little. Make her feel comfortable. Don’t be overly happy, or try to act overly natural. She’ll know something’s wrong. It’s like that thing we read in To Kill a Mockingbird when Atticus tells Uncle Jack ‘children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults and evasion simply muddles ‘em up.’”
Timely, I suppose that President Obama honored my daughter’s favorite novel just this weekend by hosting a special screening of the film at the White House. In a letter, author Harper Lee, writes, “I believe it remains the best translation of a book to film ever made, and I’m proud to know that Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch lives on – in a world that needs him now more than ever.”
And that is the most awesome thing I’ve heard all week.