Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers: From Pansies to Pie

At the very beginning of spring, when hope of growth still seemed distant, some kind person planted brightly-colored pansies in three of the empty pots sitting on the ledge at the front of our house. I must have asked a dozen different people about it, but have never discovered who did this wonderful thing.
Yesterday, a freshly baked blueberry pie appeared in Brooke’s hospital room—still warm when we discovered it. We’d been outside—Brooke in his powerchair, driving some of the way, Peggy working the controls in tight spots or steeper slopes. We were traveling through the Lakeview Hospital campus where the South Davis facility is, through the parking lots, around by the front of the hospital building, then up the street on the far side and over the top, above the big main hospital building. We’d come for the fresh air and the astonishing view: from this high point, in what are geologically the last foothills of the Rocky Mountain plateau, you can see out over the beginnings of west-desert Basin country—huge areas of flat desert land, with mountain ranges every 50 miles or so in between. From our vantage point, you could see the whole of Antelope Island, stretched out lengthwise in the middle of the Great Salt Lake, and beyond it the various mountain ranges—we’ve hiked in many of them—all the way out to the horizon. Brooke’s been indoors, in hospital rooms, for almost all of the past seven months, and these little trips outside are extraordinarily important to him.

We returned to find the pie, warm and completely delicious. We haven’t discovered who did this wonderful thing either, though the nurses said they’d seen a woman with sort of short brown hair. In between the pansies and the pie and indeed from the first moments after the accident, there’ve been amazing acts of anonymous kindness: somebody shoveled the snow, somebody mowed the lawn, people left multiple bottles of wine by the back door, people brought food or fruit from the farmers’ market—sometimes we’ve known where it’s from, sometimes we’ve had only the little refrigerator dishes as a way of identifying the source. There’s still a small mountain of them in the pantry, waiting to be eventually connected with their unknown owners, presumably after Brooke comes home. Of course, we haven’t any idea of when that will be—by one account it might be the end of the summer, by another he might be in the hospital a full year. We don’t allow ourselves to worry about this though; he’s (reasonably) comfortable, cared for by a generally wonderful staff (sometimes, if I’m asleep in the fold-back chair in his room, I can hear them gently murmuring with him as they turn him or cath him or reposition him on the bed), and has wonderful friends who come to be with him, some often, some when they can, and some by phone or e-mail or postings on the blog.
Last night, one great friend was there, experimenting with so-called mirror neurons. She hopped up onto the bed, stretched her bare feet out next to his. Watch my right foot, she said, and moved her toes and foot back and forth in a rhythmic pattern. After a while, his right toes and foot began to move, too, synchronized in the same rhythmic pattern. When her foot stopped, his foot stopped too. Was this mirror activity or was he voluntarily moving his foot? No matter; what’s important here is movement at all, and while it has come back very, very, very slowly, it’s really here.
That’s about recovery and function. But what’s also been important, from pansies to pies and all the acts of anonymous and non-anonymous kindness in between, is something about concern and care and, well, love. Thanks to you all.



Brenda Cowley said...

Dear Brooke and Peggy --

I have been out of town, but am back now and was so excited to read the last two postings. In my mind, Brooke seemed pretty Bionic prior to being bionic. Stronger than ever, is how it looks after reading about the "improvements."

The two of you remain in my heart and on my mind constantly. I was recently in Yosemite (1st time) with some "real" hikers --- I had to push to keep up -- and push I did. Whenever I considered holding back (or staying at the campsite) I just reminded myself that I did not know when I would have an opportunity like this again -- how much more to me the hiking means now -- and I thought of both of you (and made a wish) as I stood on top of Sentinel Peak, with it's 360 degree view of Yosemite. High enough that the clouds literally passed through us --high enough to see things in a different way. This trip might have just been any old trip - but the entire experience meant more -- down to a simple blister--because of the two of you. I don't know any of us that can think of our legs and bodies the same anymore.

I also saw a Mountain Lion. :)

I love you both,
and am wishing I had something in my diaphragm that forced me to breathe regularly (I'll bet I'm not the only person who wishes this) with love, and a much deeper appreciation for just about everything,
Brenda Cowley

Steve Adams said...

Dear Brooke,

It is always encouraging to hear reports of voluntary movements in your arms and legs. The 'mirror' idea sounds ingenious, because it might reconnect circuits that are unconscious, circuits that you might have no way of remembering with your logical mind or will, but that are buried in "eye-hand" coordination.

Best, Steve

Lorraine Seal said...

It’s taken me some time to reply to this lovely post. Re-reading it this morning, I noticed you’re continuing your alliterative pattern, Peggy: pumps, pacers, pansies and pie. I wonder how you will build from there.

I’ve been trying here, so far away, to evoke the extraordinary pleasure of biking along the narrow hedge-lined roads, following routes that must have been trodden by many others long before our rubber tyres, whether on car or bikes, ever rolled across the pitted pavement. Indeed, my mother-in-law next door, on seeing Michael Murphy (at 71, her junior by 18 years) race his van towards town, remarked that the Murphys always drove too fast down that road, even when driving a pony and trap. Her people and the Murphys have been neighbours long enough for her to know.

And that’s my image for you this morning, in exchange for the beautiful picture of the pair of you bravely climbing the hill and staring out across a very different landscape into the horizon. I wish I could share it with you in reality. For now, I will rely on your descriptive skill and my memory.

As for the pansies, pie, produce, wine and so much more your neighbours and friends have given you, I think that as much as it speaks to the kindness of community in general, these gifts testify to your own lives and your effect on others. Individually and together, you have given a great deal to others, of beauty, of enlightenment, of commitment, passion and fun. Now others have the opportunity to repay your own kindnesses as you remake your lives in the face of a new and difficult reality. I mean to say, the outpouring of kindness has everything to do with the respect and affection people feel for you. I wish I could be there to help too.