Chapters

“You can’t skip chapters, that’s not how life works. You have to read every line, meet every character. You won’t enjoy all of it. Hell, some chapters will make you cry for weeks. You will read things you don’t want to read, you will have moments when you don’t want the pages to end. But you have to keep going. Stories keep the world revolving. Live yours, don’t miss out.”

Courtney Peppernell, “Pillow Thoughts II: Healing the Heart”

I was all packed and ready to go. As usual, I would take too much, but then I never really know how much I might need of something-or-other, so better to bring it along “just in case.” Which was going to mean taking two trips down to the underground garage in the morning, to my ten-year-old van that was poised to take its first long trip in two or three years. I would need the exercise anyway.

I had finished my shingles medication five days earlier and had been without pain ever since, mostly. I had the MapQuest directions printed out: each turn, highway number and mileage was circled in red. Half of the trip would be on familiar roads; the other half would be country roads that changed often (it seemed to me) and raised the specter of getting lost. (This fear is real. I have no geographical sense at all.) Never mind that I had a good GPS…it would want to take me north to the Twin Cities, and I don’t do the Twin Cities any more, at age 80. I need all the help I can get.

Besides, I love doing the country these days. It’s fall now, and the landscape is surely changing here and there. And I love farms. You don’t get that on a freeway.

I was excited to spend time with my “little sister” (8 years younger than I) and her husband at their lake place, 3-1/2 hours away. Now that I’m into writing memoir, I have so many questions to ask her about our years growing up together. I know that our memories will differ, but I am newly fascinated with how she saw life in our home as the last child who was only 13 when I married and moved far away.

We three sisters, in our younger adult years, would sit up until 2:00 in the morning when we were together at Christmas or at the lake, sharing memories. We were lucky to have wonderful parents and extended family. This visit was now going be a time to have some of that reminiscing that we elders find so natural. To tell the stories again.

I was, however, awakened in the middle of the night with returned shingles pain. I reluctantly took 2 ibuprofen and tried to get back to sleep. I now knew that I had not, in fact, escaped the Posthepatic Neuralgia (PHN) that can afflict shingles sufferers for 1-3 months after the shingles have gone away, and which can last the rest of their lives. This was not the chapter of my life that I had planned! It was one that I had feared.

I got two hours of sleep that night, so driving 3-1/2 hours was out of the question. I also didn’t know how the pain factor was going to play out in this as-yet-unfinished chapter. So I reluctantly postponed my visit until next week. I don’t know if it was fear or caution that led me to do that. But the decision was definite.

I had been ready to read those pages that I didn’t want to end. And I got the ones I didn’t want to read. This would have sent me into a fit of melancholy a year ago. But with the year that has gone by – with pandemic, cancer and shingles – this is but a moment. I’ll learn how to manage my PHN, if that’s what it is, and make this trip soon. I will “keep going.” I do not want to “miss out.”

Who knows? Maybe the delay will bring me there to the Northern waters and sunsets, the family and memories and laughter and good food, at just the right time. Life has a way of doing that…meeting our delayed dreams with a different opportunity than we might have expected.

Sometimes a chapter of waiting becomes the crucible for some gift that is yet to come. And becomes its own story. It’s what we sometimes call “grace.”

And I’m okay with that.

13 thoughts on “Chapters

  1. Wow Martha,
    Reading this post really resonates with me at present.
    I hope you are feeling better soon and able to make your trip when the time is right.
    My retirement experience has been up and down but on receiving my state retirement pension aged 66 years on my birthday I finally felt a fully fledged retiree.
    This event marked quite a feeling of euphoria ,getting my just desserts’.
    I only had a couple of friends meet ups planned but a health problem arose putting all paid to that.
    I had been planning a retirement post so maybe this hiccough adds another chapter.
    Take care
    Margaret

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  2. You are so very wise…and your wisdom touches us so deeply. We never really know why things go the way they do. We only know that God is there in every season of our lives and His overall plan exceeds all of our expectations. Trust is always the key. Thank God, you have that deep abiding trust to keep moving forward, knowing God is in control. I pray that you are feeling better. When you do make that trip, I know it will be wonderful, and everyone will be blessed by the time you spend with them.

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  3. I sincerely hope the pain is temporary. But I’m impressed with the way you’re open to whatever will happen, and that you are able to tap into the grace that is necessary to move forward. Yeah, when you go thought something as difficult as you did, you can’t help but change and grow, and that is a gift!

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  4. ”Sometimes a chapter of waiting becomes the crucible for some gift that is yet to come.” Ah, what a golden line, Martha…and the perfect reminder of the power of patience or, even better, surrender and presence. Thanks for this gift. I loved it. Bill

    >

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    1. The road to the power of patience, surrender and presence began when I first left a comment on your Oxygen Buzz site 3 years ago and we became friends. And then the rest of the blogging world became a wealth of more friends, all of whom have shown in one way or another what all of that looks like. What grace looks like. Thank you, once again, for the gift of presence and wisdom that changed my life.

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  5. You amaze me! I would not be up to such a long road trip by myself. Once upon a time, yes, but now, not so much. I would ask younger sister to come visit me. But, I don’t have a younger sister. I was the younger sister! And now, I am the only sister remaining.

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    1. Well, first, being the one remaining is a poignant thing. You make me feel extra grateful that I still have both of my younger sisters. And the long road trip has already had its moments of angst as I was trying to figure out the overland route. But I want very much to do this, and I think that living alone – having no one to do this for me for nearly 8 years – has just forced me to choose to be nervous but brave because I want to do this so much. And she’s the one with the lake right outside her door!! I have a major highway right nearby! So it is kind of a slam dunk. And winter is not that far away, so we Northerners have to get our travel in before the snows start to fly! I imagine I’ll have some thoughts to share after I’m back home…

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    1. So do I, Liz! There has been a synchronicity in this blogging journey – I began it as a way of looking for grace in my own life and sharing that with others. In the very search, it seems to keep showing up in places where I would not necessarily have sought it. One of the great joys of writing is its power to unearth what we didn’t know was there – as you well know! And that is part of what keeps me – and all us writers – coming back again and again to the well.

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  6. Blessings to you, dear Martha. I’ve had fibromyalgia for two decades, ever since a bout of shingles (while watching the attack on the Twin Towers with a heating pad clutched to the side with the blisters). I thought of those two decades as “losing some of the best years of my life.” It set in when I was about 57, and I loved being that age! I figured I would have had the same “feeling like I fit in my skin” during my 60s, but during part of it I couldn’t read, couldn’t write. Recently I’ve discovered some free verse that oozed out, so I was still trying. God has his reasons, which we may never know, but I came to terms with God being in the midst of it, even some difficult surgeries a few years ago. Yes, grace.

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    1. Thank you, Joy, for your blessings! Your post-shingles experience was the kind that I have most dreaded. My shingles themselves were relatively mild…just rashes, no blisters. And my PHN – so far, at least – has been almost daily but manageable with OTC’s. Better medication and very early diagnosis played a big part in all of that, I’m sure. I’m so sorry that your experience was the kind that nightmares are made of! You have also found the power of surviving such traumas and the gift of God’s grace that shows up and becomes real when we finally see it. And I love your addendum, “Aging gratefully.” Gratitude is such power! Thank you for sharing your journey with me today!

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