Thursday, August 20, 2015

Community and KRS-One

Sometimes it happens that your world gets upside-downed. On Aug. 6, at about 9pm, I got a call from Anna and Ava's mom as she was riding in an ambulance. She and the girls were visiting her family in Butler, Pa. As they arrived, Ava had a seizure. She has had small seizures, or something akin to them (syncope), but this was different. She wasn't coming around. They inserted a breathing tube and were going to helicopter her to Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh. I threw clothes in a bag and started driving. That was two weeks ago tonight.

Since then Ava has seen her share of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, neurologists, infectious disease doctors, nurses, technicians, you name it. I didn't start writing this as a medical update, family and friends have been getting those on Facebook, but the Cliff's Notes version: Ava has Epstein-Barre Virus (EBV) encephalitis (swelling of the brain), which caused her seizure and subsequent seizures while in the hospital. It could be the effects of EBV alone, or it could be EBV on top of a chronic condition for seizures. After getting doses of Keppra and phenobarbital (anti-convulsive meds) dialed in, and allowing time for her body to deal with EBV and the brain swelling, Ava has been making solid progress and yesterday was moved to Children's Home, the rehab arm of Children's, to focus on physical therapy, occupational therapy, and rebuilding her speech and cognitive skills. It is sobering to see what a trip of the brain can cause, but incredibly encouraging to see Ava coming back into her own. It just takes time.

I am writing this morning for the things that have happened while we've been here. The things that make "community" even more of a favorite word for me than it has ever been. I made a couple phone calls and sent a few texts to family, work, close friends to let them know what happened and that I was going to Pittsburgh. The response from work, the Oxford Community Center (OCC), was go, be with Ava and my family, get her better, then worry about work. More on that in a minute.

As word of what happened started to spread, there were concerned calls, texts, e-mails, so I took to Facebook as a blanket means of keeping people updated. What I sometimes forget, and don't think I was really thinking about, is the real people behind the profile pics and status updates. And I wasn't prepared for, or expecting, the way people would respond, reach out, follow along, pray, and cheer for Ava. I have been emotionally overwhelmed and buoyed in amazing ways.

In July, the girls and I moved into a new house in my hometown of Oxford, Md. We've been busy and hadn't been able to finish moving furniture. While I've been in Pittsburgh, members of the Oxford Volunteer Fire Department helped my mom and cousin finish moving us in. Family, neighbors and the Oxford Police Department have been checking in on the house and making sure all is well.

Folks who follow along here know that in March I started work as Executive Director of OCC. I've never felt more at home, more supported, more inspired or motivated to work somewhere. It has felt like exactly where I am supposed to be, professionally and personally. Both Anna and Ava have quickly become a part of the place, and with living just down the street from OCC, they can ride their bikes there.

While I have been in Pittsburgh with Ava, OCC's Board of Trustees and volunteers have made sure I have peace of mind to be here, and to know that all is taken care of at work. This week, there are shifts of volunteers covering the public office hours. I can't even begin to express what all that means or how grateful I am.

For the previous five years, I worked in, and commuted to, Washington, D.C. I made more money, but had less of a life, and certainly not a life where work, family, and play were integrated in any real sense. During the past two weeks, I have had KRS-One's voice in my head (as one does):

It's not about a salary, it's all about reality...

For the past two weeks, my reality has been around Pittsburgh, Munhall, Children's Hospital. It's been being where I need to be, when I need to be there. It's been tears, trials, triumphs, and trying to piece a new reality together, to return to life on the Eastern Shore, knowing what we are coming out of, and being thankful for what we have.

The newest part of our community includes the amazing people at Children's Hospital. The nurses, technicians and doctors who both girls look for--who have taken to Ava, and check in on her; who call her "girlfriend," and high five her; who laugh with us and are helping bring her back around; medical professionals who treat Ava like an amazing person, not just a patient; who are working at every level to get her ready to go home.

It's funny to me, how connected the words/concepts "reality" and "community" can be. Through this whole process, I have yet to feel alone, and there are so many people to thank for that. My reality is informed by, shaped by, inspired by, the community (communities) I am a part of.

When I get home, I look forward to sitting on my front steps with a beer in the evening, laughing at the girls running around the yard. I look forward to runs and bike rides around Oxford and knowing the folks I see on the way. I look forward to getting back to work, and helping define, and inspire, what community means to others. I know what it means to me.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Alarm Clocks, Bob Marley, and Dandelion Wine

Alarm clocks have a pretty straightforward job: to wake us up. I'm not saying it is an easy job, just that it is well defined. The actual waking up part requires something from us.

For a stretch I was an always early morning runner. My record in idiocy was meeting a friend at 3:30am to go run 20 miles before work. I still run mostly mornings, and I am still a morning person, but when the alarm clock goes off that early, we look at each other, the clock and I, and nod, or chuckle, and go back to bed.

It's funny, people's alarm clocks can be very different. You might be tuned to the sunrise, it might be beans grinding in a coffee pot, it could be a wet dog nose and wagging tail in your face. We've all got different ways to wake up.

But the kind of alarm clock in my mind this morning is not the kind that wakes us up in the morning. It's the kind that wakes us up in life. Where we find ourselves looking around, rubbing the sleep out of our eyes (lives), and wondering, hey, how the fu** did I get here?

And those kind of alarm clocks, the life alarm clocks, they take a response on our part as well. Just because they go off, doesn't mean we wake up. Life alarm clocks. Could be a religious awakening. Could be a failed marriage or relationship. Could be the death of someone we love. Could be the loss of a job, or a move to somewhere new. The birth of a child. Life alarm clocks come in all shapes, sizes, and times.

Life alarm clocks, if we hear them, and we act, can remind us we are alive. And to live. If you need a way to remember it, I'd go with a Bob Marley mantra. Bob won't steer you wrong.

I'm in the middle of reading Ray Bradbury's "Dandelion Wine," which was described to me by a well-read friend as the ultimate summer book. She is not wrong in her declaration. It's the most dense, beautiful, coming of age in a small town, learning to be alive book I've come across. I've been a Bradbury fan since "Fahrenheit 451," but haven't gone back and read more of him. And I own "Dandelion Wine." So I started following the life and times of Douglas Spaulding, who is a semi-veiled version of Bradbury. Very early on in the book he has an epiphany. Outside, picking grapes and wrestling with his brother, it hits him. He opens an eye:

And everything, absolutely everything was there.
The world, like a great iris of an even more gigantic eye, which has also just opened and stretched out to encompass everything, stared back at him.
And he knew what it was that had leaped upon him to stay and would not run away now.
I'm alive, he thought.

There are life alarm clocks going off everyday for us. If we listen. And we wake up. And live.