Sunday, September 05, 2004

Answering the call...to wait

I spent Thursday flying out-of-state and sitting in (I'm told) the world's second largest hospital, waiting for the end of my mother's surgery. I've never been an admitted patient in a hospital, but I'm something of an expert on waiting rooms. It's easy to let yourself feel helpless in a situation where you have nothing to do but sit and wait for news. In the moments of doubt, the though crosses my mind, "What good am I?"

Of course the answer is simple. When a loved one wakes up in recovery or the I.C.U., one of the first things she wants to know is if an important family member is present. I'd wager that many people would ask that question before they'd ask about their condition. Sometimes, I guess, as with the Army, our job is just to be there.

I haven't had a chance to see Garden State yet, but I heard a monologue by Zach Braff's character during a public radio interview. The character was philosophically wondering if family wasn't just a group of people longing for the same imaginary place. I don't know if that's an existential conclusion of the film or a straw man that is taken apart by the subsequent events. (I gather from my wife, who has seen it, that it's closer to the latter.)

Just as memory is a subjective and unreliable record, part of being in a family is collective mythmaking. But there's more to it than that. When you hear of people going through life threatening situations, they often speak of the image of a child or a spouse that they thought of as danger approached. Heck, I save all the voice mail messages of my son saying "dada, dada" over the phone so that I can always call them up on a stressful day. We love, therefore we are.

When you are part of a family, whether it's one that we're born into or one that we make, nobody suffers alone.

(For the record, mom's doing fine, she's on her way through a slow, but hopefully steady recovery.)


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