Dubrovnik

On one of our first nights in Dubrovnik, I told Leah that finally I was starting to understand parts of Isaiah 60, the scripture I’ve been trying to memorize for months.

We don’t have any walled cities near where I live. I needed to walk the walls of Dubrovnik to “get it”.

Foreigners shall build up your walls… (Isaiah 60:10)

One of our guides told us that back when the city was being built, men coming to trade were expected to bring stone to Dubrovnik and the women eggs. Stone for building. Eggs for the mortar that would hold it all together.

Your gates shall be open continually;
day and night they shall not be shut… (Isaiah 60:11)

The gates were, most definitely, open. The drawbridge was down, the moat dry. In fact, part of the moat had been turned into a playground.

Swallows screeched and soared above us down the narrow streets. Pigeons nested right in the walls. Every time I saw them, I thought about this verse.

Who are these that fly like a cloud,
and like doves to their windows? (Isaiah 60:8)

I know that the Isaiah passage is actually talking about Jerusalem, which is the city I most want to visit. How Leah and I happened to end up at Dubrovnik was serendipity.

But I’m so thankful.

It wears the scars of recent violence —

Inside the Franciscan monastery in Dubrovnik

But the bustle and busy-ness of the place tell a different story.

Violence shall no more be heard in your land,
devastation or destruction within your borders;
you shall call your walls Salvation
and your gates Praise. (Isaiah 60:18)

One day, I pray, we will have no more violence.

In the meantime, I’m thankful to have visited Dubrovnik.

Ominous Beginning

The man seated ahead of us on our Newark to Paris flight was large and loud.

I missed the beginning of the “discussion” because we were getting situated in our seats, stowing my pack in the overhead compartment, turning my phone to airplane mode, finding both ends of the seatbelt.

My ears tuned in at — “NO! You listen to me!”

His angry voice rose above the murmur of the other passengers who were doing the same things I had been doing.

The flight attendant, a neatly-groomed small-framed man who spoke excellent English with only a trace of a French accent, remained calm. “Sir,” he said, “I’m trying to explain.”

The passenger interrupted. “I’m paying your salary,” he bellowed. “You need to do what I say.”

“Please listen to me,” the flight attendant said. I was amazed at how unrattled he was by the confrontation. “I cannot give you two pillows right now –”

I need to be comfortable on this flight!” the man interrupted with another bellow.

“Sir,” the flight attendant began again, “if you will listen, I will explain.”

I looked out the window at the raining pouring down outside, wishing I could be almost anywhere but there, where the groundwork was being laid for the next ugly airline confrontation. Getting my phone out to record it didn’t cross my mind.

“As long as your explanation includes a second pillow — ” the man said, interrupting again.

“Yes, sir, I have to wait until everyone is seated. We have only enough pillowcases for the passengers on board,” the flight attendant said.

“Well, what’re THOSE?!” the man asked, pointing to a small pile of pillows in an overhead compartment across the aisle.

“Those are pillows without pillowcases,” the attendant said.

“Gimme one of ’em,” grumpy man demanded.

The flight attendant complied, repeating the fact that it did not have a pillowcase on it.

“See?” the man said snidely. “We found a peaceful solution.” His sarcasm cut rudely through his words.

As he plumped his pillows and settled into his seat, the flight attendant moved down the aisle to assist other passengers.

I sighed. It’s no wonder Americans have a bad name.

The plane was quickly prepared for take-off and didn’t linger long on the runway.

Once in the air, the man ahead of me signaled the flight attendant as he walked past. He beckoned him to lean close, so he wouldn’t have to yell, but I could still hear.

“I’m sorry for the way I treated you,” he said. “I was out of line.”

“No problem, sir,” said the flight attendant.

Above the clouds, the rain was gone. The sun truly looked like a silver lining.

And the angry words were washed away in one man’s humility.

I more than survived the experience. In an unexpected twist, I was blessed by it.

 

 

 

Community

John 5 begins with the story of Jesus at the Bethesda pool where lay “a multitude of invalids.” The belief was that after an angel troubled the waters, the first one in was healed. Jesus spoke with a man who had been there for thirty-eight years.

“Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asked him.

“Sir, I have no one,” the man replied. No one to put him into the pool when the water is stirred. A multitude of invalids, but each concerned for himself.

To have no one.

In contrast —

C is for Community.

My father and mother enjoyed traveling after my father retired, but as my mother’s dementia grew worse, traveling became more difficult.  One night in New York City, my father awoke to hear the heavy hotel door click shut and realized that my mother was no longer in the room. He found her in the hallway. Another time she got away from him at the airport, and still another time she wandered off in Greece.

On that trip to Greece, their last big trip, the other ladies in the tour group saw the need and began watching out for my mother. What began as a group of strangers ended as a caring group.

My mother and father on their trip to Greece

My mother and father on their trip to Greece

Strangers at the start, friends by the end

Strangers at the start, friends by the end

“Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.”  Anthony J. D’Angelo

Community doesn’t have to be intimate to be functional.  Even a small thing, like holding the door open for someone struggling with mobility, can be an act of community. It says, “I am willing to help you, even if it inconveniences me a little.”

Sometimes community is very intimate. I was horrified to see that my mother had had an incidence with incontinence while visiting an old friend of my father. “Oh! I’m so sorry!” I had said when my mother stood to go. “Let me get something to clean that!”

“No, no,” the woman had said. “Your job is to take care of your parents. I can clean this up.”

Community.

Looking out for one another.

Circling the wagons in Greece, in Florida, in Cooperstown.

We can be community to those we encounter. We just need to be willing.

 

Journey

J is for Journey.

The bigger story of our lives is constantly being retold is smaller stories every day.

For example, my journey to Laity Lodge was series of steps which I could break down thus:

  1. Car ride to Binghamton
  2. Bus trip to NYC
    1. First bus to Monticello that broke down
    2. Second bus that safely delivered us to Port Authority
  3. Waiting at LaGuardia

    Waiting at LaGuardia

    Shuttle to LaGuardia

  4. Waiting in LaGuardia
  5. Flight to Charlotte
  6. Hurry through Charlotte airport from one plane directly to the boarding line for the next
  7. Flight to San Antonio
  8. Shuttle to hotel
  9. Night in hotel
  10. Ride to car rental agency
  11. Meeting up with friends
  12. Drive to Laity Lodge
    1. Stop for Texas barbecue
  13. Time at Laity Lodge
    1. Rest
    2. Refreshment
    3. Music
    4. Laughter
    5. Solitude
    6. Fellowship
  14. Drive back to San Antonio
  15. Flight to O’Hare
  16. Traversing the tunnels of O’Hare
  17. Flight to Syracuse
  18. Ride home

Each step has at least one story, complete with plot and interesting characters.

Sometimes I’m running. Sometimes I’m waiting.

Sometimes the bus breaks down or the flight is late.

Sometimes richness surrounds me and I am a partaker in a great feast.

Sometimes desert solitude surrounds me.

Sometimes my companion is a friend who laughs easily and shares their story.

Sometimes my companion is a stranger drinking screwdrivers to soothe the anxiety of flying.

Although I may look back on those four days as one trip, they really were a series of smaller stages, interactions, minutia. High points, low points, tension, and joy.

Peter Guber said it this way:

Every journey that is successful has culs-de-sac and speed bumps. I carry a wisdom gene through my life through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Life is a journey. I’m glad I like traveling.

Assistance

Q: How many stories can I eke out of one bus trip?

A: This is the last one. I think.

When I began the trip, I was determined to have writer’s eyes and ears, paying attention to the details and scribbling them down. Once I reached my destination, that plan evaporated, like a puddle in the Texas sun.

Still, I now have this notebook full of notes. When I pulled it out this morning to help me recall the next leg of my journey, I realized that I had left out a little chapter about my bus ride.

Here is the story verbatim from my notes.

*****

Aviary Photo_130723656517667067I’m dozing.

Dubai mom walks to the front of the bus.

“Anyone have a paper bag?”

Someone gives her one.

She goes back to her seat and hands the bag across the aisle.

Vomiting.

Take-charge nurse-type across the aisle from me calls back questions.

“Does she have asthma?”

“Yes.”

“Does she have an inhaler?”

No answer — vomiting.

“Does she have a pump?”

“Yes.”

“I’m coming back…”

Thank you for these little heroes on a bus.

“I work in a hospital,” she said to me later, “used to work in the ER.”

*****

As fair and lovely as Dubai mom was, ER nurse was dark and strong. She reminded me of Hattie McDaniel who played Mammy in Gone with the Wind. 

I was so thankful for both of them. Dubai mom (who turned out to be from Greene) was compassionate and caring enough to not ignore the distressed passenger across the aisle from her.  ER Nurse was exactly the kind of person to handle such a situation to a safe conclusion.

Another woman in my vicinity kept muttering that the driver is supposed to stop if someone is sick.  However, we were already an hour late, and he was hired to drive, not talk; I’m not sure that compassion was in his job description either.

A final note from my notes on this (“she” refers to Dubai mom)

“Quite a ride, wasn’t it?” she said, smiling.

Was she referring to the broken down bus or the vomiting woman?

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — my word for the day: Assistance

Scary Travels with Alzheimer’s

What is one of the scariest situations you have been in because of dementia?

Let’s face it — dementia can be a scary thing, for everyone involved.  Every time I see another news story about someone with dementia wandering off, my stomach tightens.  There, but for the grace of God, goes my mother.

My mom and my dad on an earlier trip

My mom and my dad on an earlier trip

My father recently told me a scary story.  Years ago, my parents traveled with a church group to Macedonia, to walk where Paul walked.  They had booked the trip during the days of denial, but there was no denying my mother’s dementia when it came time to leave.  I was worried sick.

That’s probably why my father didn’t tell me this story when they first got home from the trip.  Back then, he told me how the other ladies on the trip all helped with Mom.  “They were great,” he said. “They really looked out for her.”

He saved this story to tell me years later.

In his words, “When we were in Greece, I needed to go find an ATM to get some more cash, so I told Mom to stay in our hotel room. I explained that I needed to go out, but that I would be back.  She said she understood, but when I got back, she was gone.”

She had, indeed, left the hotel room alone. In a foreign country.  Wandering off. Fortunately, some people from the tour saw her and kept her safe until my father came back.  It could have been quite disastrous.  There, but for the grace of God

My own personal scary situation with my mother took place at JFK.

I’m still not sure of the reasoning behind taking my parents to JFK as opposed to an upstate airport.  Maybe, what with my blurry memory and all, it was for that same international trip, and the trip originated from JFK.  I think, though, that it was a trip to Florida.  We thought a direct flight to Florida would be so much easier than trying to make connections.

Whatever the reason, there we were at JFK — me and my parents.  I pulled right up to the door, dropped them off, parked in the short-term parking, and ran over to the terminal to make sure everything went okay.

By the time I got there, they were already well-entrenched in the snaking line leading to the security checkpoint.  I stood and watched as they inched forward.  My father turned and waved at me.  He got my mother to do the same.

Slowly, slowly, they worked their way to the stacks of trays, the conveyor belts, and the scanner.

I watched my parents each take off their shoes and put them in their respective trays.  A TSA agent told my mother to remove her jacket, which she did, and that went into the tray too.

My father, moving much more slowly than my mother, was still untying his shoes.

My mother spryly moved her way through the line, putting more and more distance between herself and my father.  I stood, helplessly, at a rope barrier watching.

A security guard stood near me.  “Excuse me,” I said to him. “My mother has Alzheimer’s and she is getting separated from my father at the checkpoint.”

He glanced in the direction I pointed, shrugged, and said, “I can’t really do anything about that.”

Even as I spoke with him, I could see my mother pass through the checkpoint and grab her jacket and shoes.  My father was still by the trays.

“I really need to get in there to help her,” I told the guard.

He shrugged again, unmoved.  “I can’t do anything,” he repeated.

My mother had her shoes on as my father was walking through the metal detector.  She was heading out of my sight down a corridor.  “Please, sir,” I begged the guard.

“Next time ask for a pass to accompany them through the gate,” he said, but he refused to make eye contact with me.  He stared resolutely ahead. I felt like I was talking to a wall.

My father made it through the  checkpoint and I could see him sitting to put his shoes on.  My mother was nowhere in sight.  There was, quite literally, nothing I could do.

I watched him finish tying his shoes and slowly move down the same corridor where my mother had disappeared. I felt like I had swallowed a boulder.  The security guard, impassive, had moved away from me and was talking with someone else.

My final hope was to call my father on his cell phone.  Of course, he didn’t have it turned on.

I dejectedly turned to leave, but made one last appeal at a help desk.  The woman was so nice, but, of course, couldn’t help me.  She offered me the same advice as the guard — get a gate pass, but it had to be done with the ticketed passenger with me;  I couldn’t do it after the fact.

Of course, when I left JFK that day, I got lost in Manhattan and cried.

My father and my mother found each other in the airport.  It all turned out okay in the end.

Still.  Scary is an understatement for those events.

Because of situations like this, few things have built my faith more than Alzheimer’s.  The rope barrier at JFK might as well have been the gulf between Lazarus and the rich man. (see Luke 16:19-31) With no way to cross it, only helpless feelings  welled up inside as I stood and watched.

Prayer is my main refuge.

I am not in the hell of the rich man, though some describe care-giving in such negative terms.  No, I am stuck at a rope barrier, talking not to Abraham, or an impassive security guard, but to God Himself.

I’m watching my mother as she is carried into Abraham’s bosom.

It is a slow, sometimes scary, good-bye.