The question is not what you look at, but what you see. – Thoreau
While out walking our dogs a week ago, my husband and I stopped to chat with a neighbor. We asked him casually how he was doing and he quietly said that his daughter was dying.
She was in hospital with liver failure, and he was in negotiations with the insurance company and hospital trying to arrange a liver transplant. His daughter had some issues that made it more complicated and was turned down for the operation by local hospitals. Dan (not his real name) found a hospital in another state that expressed willingness to perform the surgery and he was deep in negotiations over prices, transport, temporary living arrangements and a million other details. To further complicate matters, his insurance company refused to authorize the surgery or any related expenses arising out of it, citing non-coverage for out-of-state care. Dan was desperate to save her, as any parent would be, and was willing to shoulder any burden, no matter how ruinous, to help her.
Over the next couple days, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I decided to look and see if there was a Rally or Go Fund Me page to help with expenses. And there was. He was seeking $500,000 to defray the cost of an out-of-state, uninsured liver transplant for his adult daughter. He had written a short, no frills explanation of what the money was for and I specifically remember thinking that he should tell more of a story; appeal more emotionally, if he hoped to raise that kind of money in a short time. Of course, I also thought his chances of raising a half-million dollars in a few days was pretty damn slim. But you know what? He did it.
At the last minute, the hospital that had agreed to do the surgery raised its price by a third (!) and then failed to call him back for three days. After everything, he was utterly, heart-breakingly thwarted by the hospital’s financial administrator not returning his calls until Thursday – his daughter passed away Wednesday night.
I could comment on an insurance company that denies out-of-state coverage, even though in-state service wasn’t an option; a hospital that agrees to a price and then in a very “oh, by the way” manner, raises their service price by over a hundred-thousand dollars and then their financial office doesn’t call a desperate father back for three days; or the sheer heartbreak of a parent losing a child no matter how it happens. All worthy essay topics. But what I’d like to comment on is this:
What does it say about a person, when they put up a plea on a Funding Site for a huge amount of money, that their funding needs are met within 48 hours? His written plea wasn’t particularly emotive, it didn’t give a ton of detail; it didn’t have pictures. And yet…..
Dan is the kind of guy who, if he notices someone suspicious near your house, he will trouble himself to check it out. He’s lived in this neighborhood for over 30 years, knows everyone, and clearly subscribes to an old-fashioned sense of neighborliness. (This neighborhood is a wonderful throw-back to a time when neighbors socialized and watched out for each other, but that’s a topic for another post.) He isn’t nosy, he’s always cheerful, he’s well-regarded. He’s known for being helpful and generous. He once gave a substantial amount to a renter in this neighborhood because they showed up at his house pleading inability to pay their rent. I’ve never heard him speak ill of anyone. He’s the kind of dependable guy you want around.
None of this will matter to him in this moment. He’s deep in grief; I’ve seen him go by with his dog on a normal walk; an uncharacteristic shadow on his face. I hope he is buoyed even a tiny bit, by the love that percolated up to support him. It was too late, but it wasn’t useless. He’s built a life-time of good relations and clearly, character outs itself. People – a lot of them – rallied sacrificially to help. We live in a throw-away world nowadays. People don’t know their neighbors, don’t stay in an area or a city long-term, don’t have money to put towards anything but bills and essentials. And yet….
“Karma” isn’t always a bitch after all.
You know what’s really, powerfully sexy?
“A sense of humor. A taste for adventure. A healthy glow. Hips to grab onto. Openness. Confidence. Humility. Intuition. Presence. A quick wit. A dirty joke told by an innocent looking lady. A woman who realizes how beautiful she is.”
I think the issue of remaining in your truth in memoirs applies to more than just language. Every family has a secret language; a code of what is understood and said / hidden. The author lives in that context intrinsically but there is fear in conveying to a reader the sublime and the gross, knowing that you cannot affect how they internalize your portrait. This is exactly why certain stories I’d like to tell remain still unfinished. Writers must overcome their fear, and I’m still battling it.
In the grocery stores, dime stores, department stores of the New Orleans East neighborhood where I grew up, my grandmother stole and I lied. It became part of the rhythm of our days: Lala brought us into the English-speaking world, where the Americans talked like chirping, or was it squawking birds—I can’t pin down the analogous word, but I knew she didn’t like the sound of it, ese maldito ingles—and she spoke only Spanish, so I served as translator.
Very quickly I learned I must lie. Because at TG&Y off Michoud Boulevard, Lala deigned to purchase household items like toilet paper or detergent, but stole whatever tchotchke it was I wanted. In the check-out line the cashier might ask how we were doing, to which Lala would reply in Spanish, “I’m fantastic, you dummy, because I’m stealing from you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” All those…
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Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. – Churchill
This is my very first official Blog Entry (que trumpets), in which I plan to curate recipes, blather about politics or life or whatever tickles my fancy and talk about my favorite topic of all: Books and Writing. I may, from time to time, post “in-progress” stuff I write in the hopes of garnering comments – hopefully of the encouraging type although I’ll take what comes, as long as it’s constructive. It occurs to me that today is April Fools Day, which may turn out to be ironic or prophetic, who knows!
Happy Blog-Day to me!