Amahl and the Night Visitors: Offer Yourself to Someone in Need

Woman, you can keep the gold.

I was ten when I stepped into the spotlight one Christmas night and performed various roles in Gian Carlo Minotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors. My older brother John and younger brother Bill also performed.   Our audience consisted of four very proud women—my grandmother, two aunts and my mother, who periodically dabbed at their eyes with tissue as they  laughed and cried during our performance.

If a reviewer had been there that night watching three eager children dressed in bathrobes and flowing dishtowels,  imitating the garments of Christ’s time, the best thing he or she would have written is that we knew the music—every note, every pause, every crescendo.  And we sang heartily the amazing, touching beautiful lyrics—yes, every word.

Written in 1951 for television, the opera tells the story of the poor young shepherd boy, Amahl, who in the vernacular of the day is crippled and hobbles around with the aid of a crutch.  He meets the three kings who are following the Christmas star to find Christ and deliver gifts of gold frankincense and myrrh to him.

The kings and their servant briefly stay with Amahl and his widowed mother late one night.  King Kaspar amuses everyone with his bird and various possessions which he keeps in a jeweled box.  Neighboring shepherds bring food to the destitute hovel and dance for the kings.  Later, as they dose, the mother sings of two children—the Christ child, a child of wheat, and her own disabled son, a child of thorn.  Frightened of the future and how she will care for her boy, she reaches out to take some of the kings’ gold, awakening their loyal servant.   He cries out that she is a thief and begins beating her, all the while accusing her of stealing.  Amahl limps to his mother’s defense, lashing out at the servant as best he can as he tries to balance on his weak legs.  Finally he falls into his mother’s arms, weeping.  King Melchoir then sings the most beautiful aria of the opera:

Oh woman, you can keep the gold,

The child we seek, doesn’t need our gold

On love, on love alone, he will build his city

His pierced hand will hold no scepter

His haloed head will wear no crown

His might will not be built on your toil

Swifter than lightning he will soon walk among us

He will bring us new life and receive our death.

And the keys to his city, belong to the poor.

At this point, Amahl slowly rises and offers the kings his crutch, asking them to take it to the new baby as who knows, he might need one.  As Amahl extends his only possession to the kings, a miracle occurs and he finds that he is able to walk!

The opera had been a gift to us three children a few years before, a set of four 45 rpm records that played loudly from our dining room.  Occasionally we stopped the performance to change the record!  But we sang on.  Bill, the youngest, was King Kaspar, proudly sitting beside my mother’s small lingerie chest and opening  each drawer to produce magic stones, beads, and the prized licorice during his aria.  His companion was our canary, Peter Fritz, who playing the role of Kaspar’s bird did his usual thing—scattering droppings and newspaper shreds through the bars of his cage.

During the shepherds’ song the three of us disappeared into the kitchen to return with a basket of bananas and oranges to set before our bemused audience.  We then twirled and danced the shepherds wild and free dance along the living room floor, careful not to knock each other over on our so small stage.

But even though we lacked the accoutrements necessary for a great performance, we did not lack the heart and soul, the love and involvement.  The music of Gian Carlo Minotti spoke to us and changed us even at our very young ages.  As I write this memory today, I have chills hearing Minotti’s haunting melodies in my mind and remembering his beautiful words.  This Christmas and all through the year we should offer ourselves to those in need—because the keys to his city belong to the poor.

MERRY CHRISTMAS and Happy Holidays to everyone!

(this is a repost)
Thanks to Beesonell Photostream
Amahl and the Night Visitors: Offer Yourself to Someone in Need

Beth, John and Bill perform.

Armor for the Journey: Inspirational Books for Aging Boomers

Boomers are aging.  An undeniable fact.  And because historically we have approached every major change in our lives—education, dating, marriage, parenting, employment, health, exercise, travel—with eyes wide open, questioning, questing and desiring to live life at its best, we want to embrace aging with the same intent.  We want knowledge and understanding.

We won’t be slouching off to an overstuffed chair and just sitting it out.  But we will be sitting at the computer or pouring over the pages of books expanding our knowledge, embracing ideas and proposing that as a group we will age better than previous generations.  Because that’s what we do.

Dr. Bernie Siegel whose book Love, Medicine and Miracles helped Boomers see cancer in a different light, was asked to recommend a list of self-help books.   His response: “Every book ever written is a self-help book.  What’s the Bible?  What about Buddha?  Each generation thinks somebody new is starting the process, but we keep repeating the

wisdom of the sages and the ages.”

But that’s the whole point—our generation thirsts for inspiration, longs for those kernels of truth.  It’s like every challenge we have ever faced—knowledge is powerful armor and we want to be prepared for what’s coming.

Dr. Siegel with writer Mary Ann Brussat, co-author of Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life, came up with the following list.  These books explore aspects of aging and healing.   They will give you the armor that you need to make the best of the years ahead.

1. Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient Norman Cousins  Published in 1979, Cousins, a longtime editor at the Saturday Review, laughed his way out of a crippling disease by watching the Marx Brothers.  He “jump-started the whole mind-body connection,” Brussat says.

2.Man’s Search for Meaning Victor Frankl MD PhD  In this 1959 memoir Frankl tells of his years at Auschwitz and shares the coping mechanisms he developed to overcome trauma and find new meaning in life. “Acting out of love saved him,” Siegel says.

3. On Death and Dying Elizabeth Kubler-Ross MD  This work of the late 60s introduced the universally accepted five stages dealing with death and other traumas: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  “This book is about helping people through that final transition, so they can die surrounded by loved ones, so they can die laughing,” Siegel says.

4. The Power of Positive Thinking Norman Vincent Peale  This 1952 best seller outlines Peale’s belief that “faith in yourself makes good things happen to you,” a key element in overcoming or peacefully living with a chronic illness.   

5. Telling Secrets Frederick Buechner  Using his father’s suicide and his daughter’s anorexia, this Presbyterian minister addresses the dysfunctional family tendency to suppress painful experiences.  The focus of this 1991 book “is the idea of healing as embracing the whole of your history; all shadows and secrets.  Dealing with all of your issues is what the spiritual journey is about,” Brussat says.

Newer recommended works that also provide armor for the journey:

Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness

Richard Cohen

Journalist and husband to Meredith Vieira, Cohen battles MS with grace and wisdom.

Drinking: A Love Story

Caroline Knapp

The author’s 20-year struggle with the bottle and her ability to finally quit.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Mood and Madness

Kay Redfield Jamison

This professor of psychiatry shares her personal struggle with manic depression.

A Whole New Life

Reynolds Price

This is the novelist’s recounting of his battle with spinal cancer and his final acceptance of a new life as a paraplegic.

The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion

My personal favorite.  This 2005 National Book Award winner recounts how Joan could continue to live after her husband’s sudden death and their only child’s illness that put her in a coma.

Thanks to USA Weekend where this material first appeared in a slightly different form.

Fire Prevention: Practice E.D.I.T.H. and be Safe

Near the end of September, my son experienced fire—complete with a banging on his apartment door at 3:00 a.m. and a policeman shouting for him to get out.

Stunned, he shoved his feet into flip-flops, grabbed a jacket and bolted.  He had his wallet and phone.  That was all he would own a few hours later.

The policeman told him he might be able to go back in ten minutes—the fire was in a neighboring building.  He waited in the cold, worrying about his beloved cat still inside.  Ten minutes stretched to hours.  He periodically updated us on his cell phone.  The fire leapt to his apartment in an old historic building with wooden beams.  The roof caved in.  The cat died and my son lost all his possessions.

It is now October, FIRE PREVENTION MONTH.  Annually the American Red Cross reminds us of the dangers and sorrows of fire.  We need to be alert; we need to be prepared.  The American Red Cross gave my son money for food and shelter within hours of the fire.  And except for dwindling anxiety over the loss of his cat and a trip to the ER for a nebulizer treatment from smoke inhalation, my son is all right. Would you and your family fare as well?

There are between 350,000 and 400,000 house fires in the United States every year. Home fires are the biggest disaster threat to families in this country, above floods and hurricanes.

You might be thinking everything can be replaced, I don’t need to worry.  Think again.

In the 1970s, before smoke alarms were available to homeowners, my friend Chris, at the tender age of seven, was burned in a house fire.  Asleep at the back of a one level home away from his parents, he suffered burns over 90% of his body.  He survived.  Now a successful cardiac RN, Chris is proof that life can get better, but he suffered excruciating pain and many surgeries; he is permanently scarred.

More statistics: in the United States fires kill about 6,000 people each year and cause burns to 100,000 more.

Do you have smoke alarms in major areas of your home?  Do you test the batteries in these smoke detectors periodically and replace the batteries twice a year?

The leading causes of fire in the home are:

Furnaces, wood stoves and space heaters

Careless smoking


Electrical malfunctions

In addition to checking your smoke detectors or buying new ones during FIRE PREVENTION MONTH, create an E.D.I.T.H. plan.  EDITH is an acronym for Exit Drills In The Home.  Everyone should do the following:

  • Have a family meeting
  • Diagram two escape routes for daytime living and most importantly plan two for nighttime sleeping.  (In an apartment building, locate the enclosed exit stairs.)
  • If you have babies or very small children, consider how you will get to them so you can carry them outside.
  • Choose a place outdoors where you will all meet.
  • Remind your children never to return to a burning building.
  • Make sure that escape routes work—that children can open windows, climb down ladders, or are able to lower themselves to the ground.
  • If you are helping your child, always lower them first as they might panic and be unable to follow you.
  • If the building you live in has security bars over the windows, at least one window must have bars that can be opened from the inside.

My son was extremely fortunate in another way—he had renter’s insurance.  The American Red Cross states that 98% of people living in rental units do not have renter’s insurance.  They lose everything.  If this is you, call an agent today.  In light of what you will have to replace, renter’s insurance is affordable.

More fire and burn prevention tips:

  • Carefully store flammable products
  • Turn the handle of boiling water pots inward so children cannot reach them
  • Don’t leave your kitchen or home if you are frying, grilling or broiling food
  • Keep matches and lighters away from and out of reach of children
  • Keep hot irons away from children
  • Never leave fireplace fires unattended
  • Teach your children STOP, DROP and ROLL if they ever find themselves on fire
  • Don’t keep old newspapers or rags.  Get rid of items that could ignite and become a blazing fire
  • Don’t leave dryers, washers, dishwashers or other electrical appliances running when you leave your home for a number of hours
  • Buy a fire extinguisher for kitchen fires
  • Fire in your home beyond your control?—get out and stay out.  Call 911 from your cell or a neighbor’s home

Be prepared and stay safe.


Lower Your Blood Pressure Without Meds

With high blood pressure (hypertension) in his family history, Bill of Sherman Oaks, California was concerned when in his 50s his pressure started to climb.  Hypertension puts you at risk for heart attack, stroke and kidney disease.  Blood pressure (BP) often increases with age and most people are unaware of such changes because they are symptom-free.  Bill’s doctor said he was pre-hypertensive.

BP readings contain two numbers, systolic (top number) pressure inside your arteries as heart contracts, and diastolic (bottom number) pressure inside your arteries as heart relaxes.  The American Heart Association (AHA) considers the following range of readings pre-hypertension: 120-139 systolic, /80-89 diastolic. Readings of 140/90 and above are considered hypertension.

Bill had no other health conditions like diabetes, so his doctor agreed that he could try other measures before going on medication.  Exercising 30 minutes a day allowed Bill’s heart to use oxygen more efficiently—the heart didn’t have to pump as hard.

I fought taking medication by running and watching my weight.  I ate lots of fruits and vegetables which are high in potassium, magnesium and fiber—all good for the heart.”

Bill purchased a home blood pressure monitor to track his progress.  These habit changes allowed him to avoid medication for five years! Then his pressures rose consistently above 140/90—hypertension.

My doctor explained the heart can wear out over time when asked to maintain a high pressure, so I needed medication to regulate it.  I now take a small daily dose with no side effects and recently my pressure was 103/72.

Lorie Cannon, RN BSN from Iowa Health Cardiology supports the use of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet that Bill and other cardiac clients use to reduce their pressures and control weight gain.  DASH emphasizes reducing sodium (salt) because it can greatly increase the BP of persons sensitive to its effects.  Statistically those more prone to hypertension include people middle aged or older, African Americans and those with family history. 

Though small   amounts of sodium occur naturally in foods, it’s the content in processed foods that is incredibly high.  Check out the DASH diet:

Dr Robert Schneider of the College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine gives this advice to help your BP: “Meditation, not medication.”  Schneider researches the effects of transcendental meditation (TM) on BP.  Repeating a phrase or mantra for 20 minutes twice a day can ease stress, lower BP and help you “…gain a state of restful awareness or alertness.”  Go to

Drinking alcohol in moderation, quitting smoking and checking in regularly with your doctor are also part of the journey to healthy blood pressures.  Sweets?  Try ½ ounce 70% cocoa dark chocolate with favanols to keep blood vessels elastic.

Bill continues to run and monitor his salt intake.  He knows these habits will control his weight, reduce his stress and keep his doctor from upping his medication dose.  Despite family history, he’s heart healthy.

man running photo thanks to Extreme_Tourist photostream


A Lesson in Perception


In Washington DC, at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to keep his schedule.

About 4 minutes later:

The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At 6 minutes:

A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At 10 minutes:

A three-year-old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. Again the child stopped to look at the violinist, but the mother pushed hard and the child slowly walked away, turning his head back to look at the musician.  Several other children repeated this action, but every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

At 45 minutes:

The musician played continuously. Only six people stopped and listened for a short while. About twenty gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

After 1 hour:

He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell played before a sold-out audience in a theater in Boston.  Seats averaged $100 each.  He played the same music.

This is a true story.

Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C. Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.  Check out more details at: 

This experiment raised several questions:

In a commonplace environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?

If so, do we stop to appreciate it?

Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made…how many other things are we missing as we rush through life?

Enjoy life NOW.  It has an expiration date.

Note: This is a departure from my usual posting, but I felt it was an amazing experiment and wanted to share it with you.

Finding My Father

I lost my father when I was just a three-year-old kid, but his death, at the early age of forty-five, led me to become a nurse.

Growing up, I had no memories of him.  Of course my mother told my brothers and me stories about “Daddy.”  We knew he died of a heart attack in our home.  We’d heard the story so many times we could picture him sitting in the big red chair in the living room and then just slumping over, leaving us.  We could almost hear his newspaper rustling as it fell to the floor.  But we weren’t there.

That was our mythology as we jumped in that big red chair or passed by my father’s photograph, a handsome man looking out at us wearing wire-rimmed glasses and a maroon tie, a man with kind eyes, a half-smile.

But we didn’t think of him.  We had my mother.  We said a prayer to him every night, a prayer rattled off like a jump-rope rhyme.  On some level he was there, the thought of him present in the background of our lives.  But we were kids.  Deciding who got to wear the Davy Crockett raccoon-tail hat or discovering what was for dinner was more important to us than thoughts of our dead parent.

School changed that.  My fourth grade teacher handed out forms for us to complete.   I tackled mine until I came to the blank for “father.”  I stopped.  Everyone else was writing busily.  The teacher had her back to me.  I raised my hand and kept it up until finally she turned around.

“What do I put for father?” I asked.

She studied me for a moment, as if she were truly seeing me for the first time.   “Deceased,” she said curtly and swung back to her work.

What had she said?  What was that word?  I didn’t even know how to spell it.

But that day, and for many days after, that was my father.  Not a pilot or a doctor or a man who carried a briefcase.  Not a presence in my life, someone to take me to the Father-Daughter breakfasts, those ordinary affairs with diluted orange juice and stacks of donuts.  But they would have been amazing for me had my father been there.  In the pre-divorce age of the 1950’s my brothers and I were the only children in our grade school without a father.

I  felt the sting of this hole in my life even more as I grew.  Graduations.  Dating.  My friends claimed they could convince their fathers of things more easily than their mothers.  I ached for this connection and found myself yelling at my mother when we argued about boys.  I would turn away from her, wishing my father were alive—he would understand me.

And maybe I was on to something.  I was surviving his loss, taking care of me.  He had left me.  I felt no solid connection to him and knew little about him.  To change that, I sat with my mother, who I really, truly loved, and asked her to talk about my father.

He was a dentist.  She told me how my father’s wonderful sense of humor helped offset the pain he had to inflict on his patients in those years prior to modern dentistry.  At that time everyone hated the dentist.  But not my father.  When he died she received numerous letters stating how much he was loved and that there would never be anyone like him.  This made sense to me, for often the mention of my unusual last name elicited questions from adults who had known my father, praised his reputation and stressed that his early death was a true tragedy.

Then my mother took out some old photos, including a series taken of my father in his new dental office.

And then there was one more photo.

“It’s from dental school,” my mother explained of the black and white photo of my father and a large group of students in white coats standing in a medical theatre near two cadaver tables.

“It’s gross I said,” turning away.

And I was right.  It was gross anatomy.

In my thirties when I discovered I had a benign heart valve condition, I suddenly wanted to know more about my father’s medical history.  This led me to read every article about medicine I came across and to search for information about heart valves and heart disease.

I read books by Dr. Oliver Sacks and Dr. Richard Selzer.  I slipped my father’s lavaliere from dental school onto a gold chain and wore it.

I kept reading.  I read about diet and high cholesterol and plaque and blocked arteries.   I was approaching my mid-forties.  And I was my father’s daughter.

I knew some pieces of the puzzle surrounding my father’s death were missing.  I had to grasp it, understand it, make it part of me so that I could accept the many years I have lived without him.  And something else was happening.  I was experiencing a great desire to go back to school, to become part of the medical profession, to become a nurse.  It was a longing inexplicable to me in many ways, but it just wouldn’t let me go.

My husband and children and my mother supported my need to go back to school.  Again Mom recounted to me my father’s high blood pressure, the fatigue and insomnia that she felt were directly related to the stress of his profession.

Then she mentioned his left arm pain and chest pain.   It was nagging and constant.  An electrocardiogram, EKG, revealed nothing unusual.  My father sought other opinions, but there were no tests or procedures in those days to reveal coronary artery disease or to treat it.  And no one knew at that time that my father’s diet, which often consisted of his favorites—sweets and butter—was contributing to his heart disease.

But my father knew he was going to die.  A patient of my father’s told my mother that she came upon him sitting outside the dental office on a sunny day.  He looked despondent.

“Can I help you, Doctor?” she asked him.

He looked up at her.  “No one can help me,” he told her.

He knew.

Now it’s a pretty clear picture: coronary artery disease brought on by high blood pressure, high cholesterol diet, and stress.  Death: myocardial infarction.  Heart attack.  And genetics.  Now I had this knowledge.

Anatomy and physiology are required courses in the first year of nursing.  I was so fascinated by the study that I elected to take an additional cadaver class.  After weeks of examining drawings and slides, I stood in a white lab coat with my fellow students looking down on a spirit of medicine, a human body granted to us for study and learning.  I was reverent and careful, understanding the privilege of my position.  And I saw that such a privilege would always be mine when I reached out to touch anyone that I cared for—man, woman or child.

At that table I could feel my father hovering over me.  And I remembered the photograph of his cadaver class.  No longer gross to me, I saw that I had stepped across some great divide.  I had gone back to school to discover medicine and in doing so I had found my father.  I now believe that there were always deep desires and thoughts, yearnings and meanings in my life that I had to discover.  There were things beyond my knowledge and understanding that had to be completed.  My desire to know and understand who my father was had led me to a career where possibly I could help other people.

Now I don’t worry about his cardiac history.  My father’s legacy is one of life, not death.  I launched myself into a new career, but most importantly I filled a life-long emptiness inside me—I found my father.  No longer a stranger to me, no longer just the handsome man in the maroon tie, I knew him now, knew what interested and fascinated him, identified with the compassion and care he gave his patients, knew my longings were echoes of his own.  What I had discovered took my breath away—I was his daughter, we were alike—we had connected.  I was forty-five.

How to Catch a Critter, or Live with Them

How to Catch a Critter, or Live with Them

My husband says a raccoon is eating through our roof shingles.

Originally published under the title: Tales of Insomnia, Darwin, and Liquid Fence in the Des Moines Register 2007

In 1997, we moved from Chicago to Des Moines, Iowa.  We were excited about the deck and our many oak trees.  We got into the habit of opening our windows to the night air and falling asleep to the sounds of the woods—the chirps of crickets, the hum of insect mandibles chewing.  Ah the country, a little bit of heaven.

Think again.  One night I was awakened by a piercing screech so intense I couldn’t sleep.  I knew it would keep up until the owl had killed its prey or the neighbor’s cat could free itself from the local fox.  Tooth and claw, the survival of the fittest, was alive and functioning just beyond my fence.  But the point was I had a fence.  I had my territory and they had theirs and we could just keep it that way.

Then my neighbors explained to me that the reason my hosta plants had morphed into razor-edged sticks was something called browsing—a word that meant the deer were enjoying a salad.  This was all so new we spent the evening watching deer from my son’s treefort.  We counted the points on the male’s rack and called the folks back in Chicago bragging about our amazing wildlife.

Then there was the large doe finishing off my impatiens.  I clapped my hands, shouted, picked up a stone and lobbed it at her.  Inner-city deer.  She kept on chewing.

The mythology of dealing with deer bloomed.  “Put out bars of soap.  Scatter human hair.  Let your son relieve himself on your plants.”  Whatever!!!

The gardening center had shelves of products.  I read the labels.  Apply frequently; apply when it’s not going to rain; apply and cover each frond of the plant!  I had about 90 hostas.  And this stuff wasn’t cheap.  I bought something called Liquid Fence which when applied leaves a stench that will keep the deer away and your best friends.  But I sprayed.  And I had my fence, right?

The deer were jumping my fence.   And the rest of nature was just beginning to gear up.  The word had gotten around in the critter community—we’ve got fresh meat living in the grey house, go for broke.

There was scratching below our deck.  Then I saw a creature scuttle to its new home—under that deck.  I found a picture of my critter—a woodchuck.  Go ahead, start singing the old rhyme.  But like skunks, you don’t want one of these things living with you.  They are more territorial then I was surely becoming.  Oak trees, acorns—this  woodchuck was set for life.

The critter-catcher set up three traps.  We caught two possum, two raccoons and the neighbor’s cat.  Finally one afternoon I actually saw the critter walk right into the trap.  I was so excited I called my husband at work.  I had gone over the edge.  The critter-catcher wasn’t far behind.  He brought a camera .  “I’ve never caught one of these,” he told me happily.  We were a pair.

Then at two a.m. there was the bat, fighting the circles of the ceiling fan above our bed.  And me with a broom and a baseball cap and a towel—you use the towel to throw the bat to the ground.  I was learning!

Now I’m definitely dreaming of a condo—no trees, no animals.  But can I give up listening to the sounds of nature as I fall asleep?

A few nights ago: bump, thunk!  It’s four a.m. and something has just knocked over the bird bath.  I’m awake.  Is it deer in the hostas?  I haven’t sprayed.  A raccoon?  My husband says a raccoon is eating through our roof shingles.  He’s starting to crack too.  I closed my eyes, but all I could see was the yard below swarming with wild life, every inch crawling with nature, vivid with its slither and instinct, its hunger and need.

In the morning, the lawn was full of squirrels and chipmunks.  For even if the legal documents for our dwelling has the name HAVEY on it, we now know who truly owns the place.

If you have any critter problems, please share.

Thanks to Google Images

Pain and Memory

Pain and Memory

When we experience pain, we often remember the activity associated with it.

Pain and Memory

You forgot to pick up your cleaning.  You forgot your sister’s anniversary.  You forgot to send David with the permission slip for the field trip and you had to drive over to school with it.

Yes, we forget things.  We don’t store them in a front-loading file that jumps into our mental vision.  So what can you do to help remember such odds and ends?  Store them with pain.

I’m not suggesting that you do that.  But pain and remembering are closely linked.  If an experience was painful, you will remember it.  Like the details of a surgery, a birth, a broken bone.

I have the details of an eye surgery I had at the age of five very firmly implanted.  I can run the film at any time—see the long hospital corridors that I first walked down, and the room with two beds where my mother left me.  But then the seeing memory goes away and becomes auditory only.  Because the doctor covered BOTH of my eyes after the surgery.  So I hear footfalls in that hallway as I lie in bed for four days waiting for visiting hour when my mother would come to see me.  One day she did not come because she couldn’t get a sitter for my younger brother.  That day and night was possibly the longest of my life.  I remember the sand bags they placed on either side of my head when I slept at night and the cardboard cuffs they pinned to my hospital gown over my elbows so I couldn’t raise my arms and pull at the bandages while dreaming.  Someone fed me.  The pain was not physical, but environmental—I was five, away from my home and my mother and my life of playing and going to school.

It finally ended on Sunday morning when they removed the bandages and I could see the room of my loneliness, the roommate who never stayed to talk to me and sunshine filling my world again.  They looked at my eye and were pleased.  They let me get out of bed.  I was so excited, I fainted dead away.  You don’t let someone up to run around when they’ve been lying in bed for five days!!!  What were they thinking?

But I was fine.  My surgery went well and I am grateful forever to my doctor who insured that I would have a life of good vision despite being born with strabismus.  Today I would be discharged the same day and never have both eyes bandaged.  From my nursing background, I cannot find an explanation or rational for bandaging both eyes.  It just was painful.  It just increased my memory.  Pain and memory are a duo.

Thanks to Google Images

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