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‘Hipwreck’ brings abundance of grace


How does this sound to all you busy parents who run households and raise kids -- six weeks’ leave from active duty. No laundry, no chauffeuring, no cooking, no housecleaning. Just time to rest, read books, catch up on “Friends” re-runs, or, better yet, with your real friends. That’s it. What? Where do you sign up, you ask?

You know that old saying about being careful what you ask for because you just might get it?

About three months ago I got such a break -- quite literally. Out for a run one -- ahem -- fall morning, I tripped, landed hard on the asphalt and came up with a broken hip. I know, I know, I’m too young; I was exercising, for crying out loud, to stay healthy; I don’t have low bone density. This was a freak accident that probably wasn’t really such an accident at all.

My “hipwreck” as I somewhat fondly call my experience, threw me off course, but it definitely didn’t leave me high and dry. My husband was nurse and counselor, listening patiently when I whined about my physical limitations or felt guilty for being needy. My children bore quite gallantly the burden of having their mother out of commission. They made their own lunches, and brought me my morning coffee when my husband had to go to work early. And while I never expected to be on my parish’s prayer list just yet, I was overwhelmed with kindness and generosity in response.

Many good people visited and brought lattes and books; made a month’s worth of dinners for my family; cleaned bathrooms and did laundry; offered to drive since I couldn’t; grocery shopped; mailed my Christmas packages; offered me pedicures and alternative healing methods; and walked the dog. I could easily see the “take-away” as they say, from this lesson: I am to trust in the abundance of grace in my life. What I need will be provided.

Lesson No. 2 had to do with me relinquishing control of certain things and taking control of others, and knowing, as the old recovery adage goes, the difference between the two. To wit: Our second floor bathroom -- the one on the same floor as our bedrooms, the one you use in the middle of the night -- was completely gutted, as we were in the process of remodeling it. To spare me from having to climb stairs on crutches in the dead of night, we rented a freestanding commode, you know the kind you hope you won’t need until you’re good and old, and even then maybe not. It really added to the bedroom ambiance, let me tell you.

I had no control over the bathroom remodeling, which took on a life of its own, as you will know if you have ever done such a project. What I could control, or work on anyway, was my own attitude about the chaos around me. I could fill my heart with gratitude that we have the means to remodel our bathroom, that we have a roof over our heads in the first place, that we have excellent medical insurance, that we have friends and family so willing to reach out to us.

The keenest lesson of all is the one of my own mortality. During my brief hospital stay immediately following the fall, my children came to visit. My two older children, one taller than, the other nearly as tall as I, are growing into young adults already. But my youngest still fits, barely, into the crook of my body when we lie down together, so she climbed into the hospital bed under the covers with me. I was reminded of her nursing days, not all that many years ago. Then I would feel her little body as a source of healing energy for me, her closeness radiating warmth and triggering my body’s hormonal shifts into the nursing “high.”

At this point in my life I know my hormones are beginning to shift again; the slow inevitable decline of this body I’ve treated all too cavalierly at times, begins. My bones need attention: They’re speaking for my soul, I think. I will not be here forever. The children I’ve made with my forgiving and fine body will grow to peak, plateau, then themselves begin the slow elision to essence: a return to molecules unanimated by the indwelling spirit. Miraculous, really, how matter can acquire meaning and slough it off.

I am now crutch-free and feeling like a million bucks, to be honest with you. My family has recovered, too. My husband is fond of making a hockey analogy to describe how he feels: We’re not playing shorthanded anymore, since I’m out of the penalty box. And I knew the kids would be all right when my 10 year old began to roll her eyes at me again. More important, I am determined to “pay it forward.” You know, stop asking why I deserve such kindness and start acting in kind from now on. I guess you could say I had a lucky break.

Kris Berggren writes from Minneapolis. She can be reached by e-mail at krisberggren@msn.com

National Catholic Reporter, March 7, 2003