The Lent I Deserve

It was a glorious first day of spring up here Thursday, although I was busy and not paying all that much attention. It was pushing 80 degrees, though, which is technically summer. Someone fell asleep on the job, obviously.

I’d mourn my lost summer day if I didn’t know there’s more where that came from. Might take a few months, but it’ll show up and with luck I’ll have forgotten all of this by then.

The feelings, I mean. Not the details. The details are interesting, if a little hairy at times. It was a month ago that I started worrying a little that my roomie in the basement wasn’t doing so hot, since it didn’t look like he was leaving the house. Weather sometimes will play a part, but this felt weird.


And then Saturday, and the ER, and here we are. I have a cancer patient in my basement. So far he seems OK, although he’s napping at the moment. I expect I’ll have a few calls today, from the pharmacy and his oncologist. It’s interesting to see the subtle interactions providers have in these situations (I’m extrapolating, but I assume this is learned behavior). My friend can get confused and uncertain, a tiny bit, for good reason—cancer fog is very common, as is whatever version of ICU psychosis he developed while hospitalized. This makes perfect sense, and he’s never delusional or obviously hallucinating, anything like that.

But these doctors and other healthcare personnel defer to me, write my phone number down first, address answers mostly to me, not ignoring him but with an obvious focus. You’re the one without cancer. You’re in charge.


I don’t want to be in charge, and this is a temporary assignment. I’m not a home health nurse and I can’t pretend to be. I can give him eyedrops and hand out his meds. The whole thing is beginning to feel bizarre.

But it’s helpful, and that’s elevated my mood in an unexpected way. The stress and anxiety wandering around having him hospitalized, alone for most of the time, just the daily visit from me that would last an hour or so, is over. I know where he is. I ordered sort of a call button thing from Amazon, should arrive today, which will allow him to buzz me if he needs something. He’s also got a phone, but he’s a little phobic about that and I don’t want to push.

If you’ll allow me a paragraph to worry aloud, though—there’s not enough money here, and I’m unsure what the next step is. Medications aren’t covered and I can’t cover them, and probably he can’t either. I have no idea how to begin the Medicaid process, which I assume can help. Which I assume I can figure out, with friends. I brought it up to two different social workers, but that’s them and this is us. Can’t count on them, apparently.

Paragraph over. Cancer talk too.


God won’t give you more than you can handle is, I think, a universally despised philosophy, although you still hear it. Hard to imagine a crueler thing to say, but people say it. Nothing like a little guilt at failing the test.

This isn’t my situation, not at all. But it makes me smile to think about my vague ideas about Lent, and trying to make changes. I made some, for sure. My whole absence from Facebook has opened my eyes, much more than at times in the past.

But my current situation seems inspired, although I don’t really believe that. It’s a fantasy I don’t mind playing (there’s a lot about faith and the spiritual side of life that falls into this category, anyway), the idea that this is a challenge that can change my life, or at least outlook.

God gives you the Lent you need. There. I like that.

I don’t think God picked me out personally. You understand.

Just like I don’t know She didn’t.

In his autobiography Ecce Homo, Friedrich Nietzsche expanded on his earlier, much-quoted aphorism by referring to some people as “nature’s lucky strokes…among men,” and says of such a person, “He divines remedies for injuries; he knows how to turn serious accidents to his own advantage; that which does not kill him makes him stronger.”

That’s a little more palatable than the common quote, and a lot more specific. I can appreciate this, now. Adversity teaches but also strengthens, or can. I don’t know else how to explain my state of mind these days, which has slipped into more of a calm, organized state. I’m still overwhelmed, and I desperately need someone to hash this over with (having dinner with a friend tonight for this purpose), but I feel functional, and capable. And needed.

I backed away from the other responsibilities that have been nagging at me, and I understand myself just a teeny bit better. I don’t want to say no. I like people depending on me. I want to help to good things, and boring but necessary things.

I can’t continue this, though, in terms of allowing myself to progress. People, busy and stressed themselves, can’t be blamed for searching for help. I’m a natural volunteer. Time to be a little more protective of myself, because that’s the only way I can do what needs to be done.

Chapin and Springsteen

Chapin and Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen once told a funny story about running into Harry Chapin over the years at different times, and how Harry liked to gab. At one point, Springsteen leaning over a hotel balcony, talking to Chapin below, trying to end the conversation so he could get some sleep, Chapin explained his strategy for playing gigs and making money.

“I do one show for me,” he said, “and one for the other guy.” He gave half of his earnings away, in other words

That’s not something The Boss was going to emulate, he knew, but it was an interesting idea and commitment. I don’t see it as a lesson about charity, since I’m not currently a recording artist in the 1970s with oodles and oodles of money. Even if we expand the definition of charity, I’m not sure that’s it, either.

It just screams bleeding heart liberal, I know. Not talking about that, but you guys go ahead without me.

I’m talking about doing, about understanding what needs to be done and doing it. Not waiting on a professional volunteer. Divining my feelings about the situation, and then doing something about it. What I can, what is needed, what is helpful.

See? God gave me the Lent I needed. I just had to pay attention.

Chuck SigarsComment