Monthly Archives: May 2009

>Fragility: Look it up

>You can see a word endlessly and never notice it, until you look it up. Then as if by magic, it is ubiquitous and it seems as if there is numinous haze surrounding it, the equivalent of highlighting. Every book, every New Yorker article has the word: limn, palimpsest or numinous. And you say AHHHHHHH I know that word.

I feel that way about fragility. I know the word, I know how to recognize and note it in a few languages, as it is an important concept for packages, fruit, hearts and emotions. But until my recent close brush with death and the fragility of the human head and mind I didn’t take it in as a concept for my life, my family my tiny circle.

I had been blessed with little or no hospital time; my parents died very old, I am still (knock on wood) unbroken and although somewhat bowed I have not spent time with in the medical system or the realm of the fragile. I wrote last about the accident I witnessed where my daughter’s boy friend had a massive skateboard crash right under my nose. And since he is French and without his parents, we took to tending him. It is now a month and I have been unseated by all of this uncertainty.

I cringe when the car brakes, swerves or honks. I wept when I unearthed and cut up a snake with my weed-whacker and today there was another tumult of my fragile psyche. My husband found an upturned nest of baby birds in the barn. The nest was a badly made cup of mud and moss, it feel from the barn rafters and lay overturned on the workbench. I flipped it over and there were hatchlings, four of them mushed together in the cup.

I thought they were all dead and I looked at their featherless wings and wide translucent eyes and then they began to breath and chirp. They were still alive and I had to save them. But how? I could hear the mother outside frantic. Of course. It was her fault. She had built a bad nest, she had left them for food, she was too big for the nest, she had been idle and grown fat and lazy. She was a mother and she berated herself the way we all do. Even if she didn’t I could scold her and myself at the same time.

I picked up the crumbly cup of a nest and thought to put the babies in a shady clump of peonies, but then I recalled seeing my cats this morning run after anything that moved, peeped or chittered. So I returned the cup to the barn and my husband devised a makeshift holder for the nest. He inverted a metal clip lamp, I laid the nest into the lamp and we replaced it on the rafters.

Then I noticed that one bird had fallen out of the nest and was on the table. He too was still breathing but all twisted and bent. I thought he would undo the fragile balance we had established for the nest and I doubted he would make it. And so I made a triage decision and relegated him to die. But I couldn’t stand to let him suffer or be taken by a mean predator so I held him beneath the tail pipe of my husband’s less than ecologically correct, 1976 MGB sports car. And there the CO2 emissions sped him to the arms of the bird angels.

I had watched my father minister this release by the side of the road when he saw a badly hit porcupine or a mangled deer. We would stop; the kids had to wait in the car and my father got out. He always talked so calmly to the “critter” as he called him. He never feared animal retribution, as he was a wild thing himself and I often felt he was in his element releasing their spirits. That was the phrase he used, he was a spirit releaser, and I must have taken on some of that countenance because today when I held the tiny bird body in a paper towel under the blast of noxious air, I felt I had done a minor kindness.

I suppose I feel that all the tiny acts of goodness will heal me from the terror and the sense that awful things will come my way because I have looked up the word fragile in the dictionary of life and I keep reading it, seeing it everywhere.

>The Aftermath of Disaster

>Today I went out early to try out my new light, strong weed-whacker and I wept. I didn’t cry at the efficiency of the machine or its ability to cut clean swaths through my over grown acreage. No, I cried because I had snipped a snake in two.

The temperature dropped and it rained hard last night, not ideal circumstances for a reptile, but great for a middle-aged gardener who likes to work hard when it is chilly. The snake was one of my favorites, a ribbon. He was green with light yellow ribbons running all round his small lithe body. I saw him and he was in half.

I stopped and bent over him, there was nothing I could do so I returned to clipping, perhaps a little more carefully. And then I started to tear up, then cry and before I could even identify what was wrong I was collapsed in the garden chair sobbing, with my Maine coon cat galumphing to the rescue.

My daughter and her 25-year-old French boy friend had been visiting us in the in country three weeks ago. They were cute, he is lively, silly an artist and a wild thing. One day he helped me clean the haymow in the big old barn and when we finished sweeping and carting the hold hay, he leaped form the loading door in the mow and down to the lawn. Maybe forty feet. It was thrilling and scary as so many of those stunts are. I laughed and my husband upbraided him. “Never do that again here, do you understand?’ The boyfriend quieted, as do all the boys when faced with my husband’s stentorian tines. He agreed.

The next day we went on a drive to see the local goats and the boy friend took his skateboard. He had asked my daughter to take him to a big hill earlier in the day and he had skate boarded down form the historic house Olana, built on a precipice of the Hudson River. She drove behind him and said he was going nearly 45 miles per hour. No helmet, no pads, shorts and a tee shirt.

On this trip home he hit a rock, pothole, divot and the next thing we knew he was on the street. We raced back and found him quiet with blood pooling on the pavement trickling out of his ears. He began breathing a heaving rattle. Terrie fed I took the car to the neighbor, as of course I had no cell phone reception. They called the ambulance; it came. I convinced the driver to allow my daughter to ride with as the kid speaks little English and in a crisis I know second languages go fast. They left; I followed the tortuous 30 miles to the nearest trauma hospital.

We spent days in the E.R and then the ICU. We had to call his parents in Nice. The arrived and we all translated and intervened. endlessly. We drove back and forth, we slept fitfully, we interviewed and befriended doctors, nurses and aides. He lived. The brain bleed stopped just as they were going to operate. He lost tons of weight, has a cane, is exhausted and jokes that he lost three days. His parents go home tomorrow. He follows in two weeks after the Neurosurgeon gives the OK for him to fly. And I will stay here changed.

I am terrified, and quaking at cars, roads, motorcycles, barking dogs. I made it through September 11, rescued my kids, wrote a book, volunteered and carried on. But this is the first item that someone I know, I like, I am in a way responsible for has gotten this hurt on my watch. I imagined the worst and I fantasized a jubilant return home for the cute, artist boy. I slept next to my daughter and we patted each other every night for weeks, when the nightmares came. I still find myself shaking my head like a wet dog, in an attempt to clear the images that leap in.

My friend Susan who studies the brain and alternative healing says that when an event like this accident happens the memories are logged in the limbic brain. In a way they by pass normal feeds of memory are logged right where they can crop up more easily and unpredictably. And they do.

SO today when I unwittingly sliced into the snake and sniveled, I know full well I was crying provoked by this new memory and sense of incredible fragility that it has installed in my very own reptile brain.