The blessings of ordinary things


Somehow a Florida golf ball found its way into my minimal luggage. I took it out on a whim and briefly bounced it among my receipts on my accountant’s table as I reviewed the events of the previous year.  

A golf ball rises with zest. The harder you hit it down, the higher and quicker it goes up. How about me? I had some health issues during this winter and I file this report about the fall, and then the spring, of my body and soul.   

“How can I write about it?” I asked my son Reuben. 

“Just wait until you find the humor in it, when you can look backward and see the story and tell it,” he counseled wisely and kindly.

First came the ambulance and the fire engine. The journey wasn’t far: We live right ‘round the corner from The Miriam Hospital. 

Then came those toothpicks with tiny sponges resting on ice chips to moisten your dry lips ... instead of water (water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink). Then they roll you to Mars, or maybe the moon, in what seems to be a space capsule, to photograph your innards.  They study your organs as best they can.   

Then comes the expert surgeon, and I open my eyes to greet my wife and my son, who are awaiting word.

I couldn’t sleep with all those tubes and wires, so we hired a couple of Liberian immigrant ladies to keep me company ... and read me psalms and proverbs to get me through the wee hours.   

When the morning finally came, who was gazing at me as though this were all a dream?  “Joe,” the captain of the building and grounds (who raised birds in his basement and has brought them to my class on a number of occasions). He was sitting directly across from me, with a big, affectionate smile and a genuine blessing. 

And who else had found out that I wasn’t at my office as usual for the first coffee of the college day?  Liza, the daughter of an alum of long ago, with a bouquet of flowers and, again, a big, wide, gorgeous smile.   

And how about “Polly,” who works in the textile department at Rhode Island School of Design, carrying two big bags of both silly and also useful things ... socks, crayons and pencils, pads and get-well cards.   

These unexpected guests cheered me up, but I did not keep detailed tabs in my wee engagement calendar: Everything was too much of an effort. I depended on my memory to keep the record of each hour of every day.

Well, I made it home at last, but I had lost my appetite and some weight, and it took a while to retrieve the blessings of hunger and thirst, which are somehow signs of hope.  Remember how in prayers we thank heaven for the most ordinary things, which we too often take for granted?   

As the various intrusive straws were finally removed, and the tape peeled off, I felt free as a bird that takes off from its cage and heads high for the skies of freedom and liberty!   

Stefano came to my house to trim my beard, and a week or so later I actually drove myself to his salon for him to shape my coiffure, or what’s left of it.  I have watched my hair turn from red to brown to gray and white, and it all looks good to me. My barber and I are buddies!

I never stopped my classes or canceled anything except social invitations, and that really hurt! I missed Cor and Kathryn’s New Year’s celebration, Mel and Pat’s Hanukkah, Amy’s block party, RISD’s end-of-semester gathering at Woods-Gerry art gallery … not necessarily in that order. But I got heaps and piles of very complimentary and kind messages, cards and e-mails, from alums both recent and from decades long ago but not forgotten, for each of which I feel both gratitude and guilt. I don’t really think I deserve and merit their extravagant praise. But their words were healing and made me oddly content, even happy.

So, how about the humor my Reuben assigned me to dig out of my ordeal as I contemplate this past winter of my discontent?  I find a bit of it in reporting the return of my bodily functions.   

I am proud of following the counsel of the visiting nurses, guys and gals who knock on the front door, poke and prod me, and boss me around: Ian says, “Drink water!” So I do.  “Eat!” says Jackie. I follow her instructions. Isn’t that funny?  It’s what my mother used to say: “Talk less, eat more.” It’s also what my wife tells me. 

 Once you are back in the saddle, you ride off into the future more or less restored and recuperated, but still hoping you find some buried treasure within the tale to be told. I guess it’s just “l’chaim” – life!   

My visiting nurses warn me against indulging in a glass of wine or a cup of coffee.  “They don’t hydrate, they dry you out.” Or words to that effect. 

I don’t totally observe those rules as I return, baby-step by baby-step, into my life among the forthcoming flowers that are beginning to poke up hopefully and merrily among the fallen leaves cluttering the front yard.

All the seasons of the year, of life, breath, pulse, a laugh, a tear, a sigh, a thought, a worry, a hope, a memory, a line from poetry or song, make a form of benediction.

MIKE FINK ( teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.