This morning, two doctors and a couple of nurses told Dad that yesterday was the worst of it. Dad wasn’t buying it at all, and I was only cautiously optimistic. I don’t know why we doubted what they were saying; these people simply don’t engage in sugar-coating. If it’s going to suck, they say so. So when they say, “Today will be better,” we should know they mean it.
Yeah, so eff cancer. That’s my attitude tonight.
Random Thought 1: Since Facebook became a Thing, I’ve had loads of friends post about all manner of health (and other) struggles. I need to confess that I’ve not always given my complete attention to those posts. So many of them have big words and long explanations, and besides, I’m rather easily overwhelmed by others’ suffering. And now, hello, I’m posting the same sorts of updates. I’m humbled and deeply grateful for your willingness to keep up with me. I can’t tell you how helpful it is to dump all this into the universe and receive waves of well-wishes in return. Thank you.
Okay, so far? The stem cell transplant process involves a lot of sitting around, frequently interrupted by sundry wonderful people: nurses, nutritionists, housekeeping staff, physical therapists, doctors, and doctors-in-training. More than once today, I’ve said, “That person was, like, 12.” (I am, like, solidly 40-something, and I’m astounded by how young medical professionals are these days.)
Today, my dad began his stem cell transplant process.
Okay, I know a bunch of you are all, like, “Wait. What?”
It was January 25, 1992. I was barely 21 years old, seven months away from receiving my bachelor’s degree, and, on that night, I was wearing an impossibly puffy, disastrously sparkly, stupidly expensive gown. I begged my bridesmaids to tell me jokes as they fussed with my gigantic hair and smoothed my over-indulgent train. “I’m going to throw up. I really, really am.”
It’s August 1, 2016. Otherwise known as the first day of the month in which I become an Empty Nester.
A couple of weeks ago, an older couple came into the shop where I volunteer. (They were actually about my age, but whatever, okay? Just whatever.) As I was ringing up their cranberry orange cinnamon rolls, we began small-talking about kids, and when I mentioned that my youngest is heading off to college in the fall, they were all, “You’re going to be an empty nester! You’re going to looooooooove it.”
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I brag about my kids on Facebook.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve posted many, many times about my high school senior, Bekah. Yesterday, in my ongoing attempt to dispel my kids’ assertion that I have a favorite child, I posted about my college sophomore, Emily. I mentioned how smart she is. I mentioned how much she’s learning and, consequently, teaching me. I mentioned that she’s a queer woman.
Today, I’d planned to engage in my every-once-in-a-while practice of playing ostrich—sticking my head in the sand, pretending everything is just fine, and writing about something light and fluffy and fun.
But then, quite out of nowhere, it dawned on me that my cousin and her husband are Muslim.
I confess that I don’t know E— well; I was an Air Force brat, moved around all the time, and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been in the same room with her. (One of those times was actually in a tent camper in our grandparents’ backyard, playing a double-deck game of War that lasted for hours. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories.) I’ve never met her husband in person, and I’ve only seen pictures of their impossibly cute kindergartner. None of that matters though; they are family, they are Muslim, and I’m afraid for them.
E— confirmed my concern when I contacted her tonight. She said she had been considering wearing the hijab, but “it’s too dangerous.” She said they’ve taught their daughter not to say Islamic words aloud.
Did you catch that? Ours is a country founded on religious freedom, and these family members of mine are afraid to freely practice their religion.
Moments after my conversation with my cousin, I read a Facebook update from a high school friend. She’s a teacher, and today a student asked if she’s Muslim (she wears a scarf). When she said, “Yes,” that student and two others began saying hateful (and inaccurate) things about Islam. They wouldn’t stop, and she had to call for administrative support. As she described to the counselor who came to her aid what happened, she broke down. Reading her story, I did, too. I just keep thinking, “How can she go back to her classroom tomorrow?”
So, instead of burying my head in the sand and pretending everything is good and right and wonderful, I’m going to say some bold things.
If we who call ourselves Christ-followers are not outraged at how our Muslim brothers and sisters are being treated, particularly in our own country, we are not paying attention.
If we who call ourselves Christ-followers are not weeping for our Muslim family, friends, teachers, neighbors, physicians, bank tellers, librarians, cashiers, managers, firefighters, and baristas, we are not paying attention.
By the way, this isn’t even about “loving our enemies.” Hear this: E—, G—, M— and J— are not our enemies, and neither are the Muslims in your neighborhood and community.
STOP. I know what some of you are thinking:
“Kelley, you don’t know that. That couple in San Bernardino—they were the enemy. How do you know the Muslims I know aren’t just like them?”
I don’t. I don’t know that.
But here’s what I do know: If we’re walking around making suspected enemies out of everyone who looks, dresses, speaks, or practices religion differently than we do, we are not paying attention to the Gospel we profess. There should be no but or unless or except at the tail end of any statement that includes the word love, and if we who call ourselves Christ-followers withhold love, compassion, and concern “just in case,” we are not paying attention.
If I’m sounding all arrogant and “I’m super-Christian and you suck,” I don’t mean that at all. I’m just sad and angry and horrified and embarrassed and trying to be hopeful but losing ground quickly.
Here’s the bottom line: My cousin and her husband are Muslim. My friend is Muslim. They are afraid.
And they now have my full attention.
On Thursday, I found myself standing in front of a rack of shiny, plastic playground balls at Target, vision blurred and nose stinging with oncoming tears.
Because my girls are 19 and 17 years old, and it’s been so long since the three of us stood together at that rack, trying to figure out how to get the blue one from the middle of the pile. “Lift me through the wire, Momma! I’ll go in and get it!”
When my first marriage unraveled, the girls and I moved into a two-bedroom apartment on the south side of town. We scored a first-floor unit with a sliding glass door that opened onto a small patio and a wide, perfect-for-chalk sidewalk. Beyond that, we had a barefoot-worthy swath of grass dotted with pine trees—perfect for chasing ladybugs and fireflies. Em and Bekah each had her own plastic ball—sticky in one spot from pricetag residue, sufficiently bouncy so as to evoke shrieks of laughter, and lightweight enough that the tiniest breeze would send them flying across the field.
They were 4 and 2 years old when we settled into our new place. Our new normal. They were towheads then, Emily with a long ponytail and Bekah with a sassy swing bob. They wore sparkly, velcro tennies that lit up with every leap and stomp. They were equally comfortable with dolls and dump trucks. They were precocious. Resilient. Breathtaking. As they are now.
In the middle of a huge mess—one of the worst young children can experience—those plastic playground balls allowed my girls to burst into sun-soaked afternoons and forget the drama of “mommy’s house/daddy’s house”—even if only for a few minutes.
Now, fifteen years past that apartment, I’m constantly surprised by and profoundly grateful for how things turned out. And if you’d been standing next to me as I stood in Target’s toy department on Thursday, you would’ve heard me whisper, “Thank you.”