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I struggle with a destructive habit of constantly tabulating the mistakes I’ve made and the things that have gone wrong when I’m having a bad day. I know about counting your blessings. I know the things for which I am thankful are abundant. But some days are just not good and I tend to make them worse.
My past two days were Alexander’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days. Actually they were mine. And I cannot seem to stop perseverating about my failures, large or small. I learned that word from a therapist who said I did it and I was embarrassed to not know what she was talking about. A failure in and of itself. My birthday is next week and somehow all these little injuries feel like bad omens. Shouldn’t I have my life more under control when I’m about to be 42?
Today I had part one of my first root canal. Tomorrow is part two. I have been a diligent tooth brusher my entire life, and only had one cavity ever until now, when I have several, including one so deep that it required a root canal. I felt convinced my tooth decay represented moral depravity on my part. I have an extraordinarily strong gag reflex. So I spent the time today in the dentist’s chair alternating between silently weeping and loudly gagging. Sometimes I did both simultaneously. The dentist was patient and nice about it. I was embarrassed. I felt sure that she and her entire staff sighed with relief when I left, although not that much relief since I have to come back tomorrow morning. She handed me prescriptions for antibiotics, ibuprofen, and valium in the hope that I could tolerate the rest of the procedure with less drama.
I won’t actually share my litany of troubles, because no one likes a complainer. Although many people like to complain. And I don’t like to complain. Just remind myself internally of all of my shortcomings and the world’s brokenness.
For several weeks now I’ve been listening to audio books in the car when I’m driving alone. I love music and I love NPR, but there came a point where every time I turned the car on I would hear, “And the death toll in [name any place] continues to rise.” Or “Today Donald Trump said [any revolting thing].” And I just couldn’t take it anymore.
I listened to The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy, as a tribute to one of my favorite authors, who recently died from pancreatic cancer. Although I knew something about Conroy’s family from his autobiographical novels, this memoir laid bare the lifetimes of abuse, drama, and emotional disfigurement that Conroy and his family experienced and foisted upon each other. Plus Conroy’s writing is inventive and lush. He describes so much pain with so much beauty. Part of what struck me about The Death of Santini is how, despite suffering cruel and bizarre treatment from each other time and again, most of the family never gave up on each other. I felt thankful that, however eccentric or idiosyncratic my family is, we are fundamentally kind. That counts for a lot.
I am thankful for my family, and for modern oral health care, even if it is unpleasant and uncomfortable. I am thankful that I could come home today from the dentist and take a long nap. I am thankful that I was able to help Zoe with her math homework, and that Zeke asked me to read Where the Wild Things Are, and The Mommy Book, and Maisy’s Book of Seasons to him at bedtime and that he snuggled in deep on my lap under his favorite crocheted blanket. I am thankful that my family liked the dinner I cooked for them, courtesy of my friend Trader Joe, even though I couldn’t eat any of it. I am thankful that people were cleaning our house today while I was at the dentist. I am thankful for the music I listened to at the dentist, and all music that brings me joy.
Yesterday Zoe and I listened to this song about 25 times. The fabulous youth choir at our church sang it and we found this recording on YouTube that the song’s composer created with a choir at Texas State University. I think I need to listen about 25 more times.
This is a poem I wrote as an assignment for the worship team that I am a part of at church.
Newsprint brought my parents together
Defining my father still
down to his illegible note taking in the margins
Millions of pages in
thousands of books
hundreds of magazines
crowd each other all over their house
competing for attention
Voracious does not begin to describe
our collective appetite for words
or better yet
My parents save all of our words
published and unpublished
hastily scribbled and neatly printed
Our words are savored
papers and postcards
tucked away in files
stuffed in drawers
piled on desks
I typed my first newsletter
on my mom’s green typewriter
when I was eight
And I’ve never stopped
So much of the paper now is
stacked up inside digital devices
But it’s still paper
extracting or repelling
juggling or reshaping my words
Words swim inside the paper
until they need to
come to the surface to breathe
They float or they sink
They crawl around the edges
clinging to what meaning they can find
I am less attached
to the paper than
my parents are
I can harvest the words and
give away the paper
Or heretically just throw it away, or recycle it
The words remain
The words are imprinted on me
I was born of paper, and now the paper is me
Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso