The Right to Live


According to Dr. Charles Stanley, preaching on Channel Whatever this Sunday morning, God promised Abram and Sarai a child but it was twenty-five years before they—now called Abraham and Sarah—had Isaac.  Can you imagine waiting twenty-five years for a promise to be kept?

Well, of course, they didn’t wait twenty-five years.  In the meantime, Sarai gave her handmaiden Hagar to Abram and they had a son Ishmael, from who is descended the national of Islam.  If Sarai had been patient and trusted in the Lord then there would have been no Muslim nation.

I am lying in my hospital bed trying to be patient.  God works his will in his time and his way.  I am neither living nor dying.  I can talk—Lord knows, I can talk—and can write somewhat.  At my peak, I could write two blogs, a thousand words each, every day.  It’s hard to believe that was real.  Now, one thousand words two days out of three.  Productivity down by—how much?  If I did write 28,000 words in 14 days and now write 9,000 in 14 days, what is the percentage of loss?  I can’t figure it out.

I only can stand for ten minutes at best, and need a nap every three or four hours.  My eyes are so bad that I write in 16 font, and only can see clearly across the street, not halfway down the block.  Hospitals say “See an ophthalmologist when you get home.”  I have no home to get to.  My memory is a bit spotty and, when challenged, my cognitive ability is limited.  I still can remember and relate old stories but have lengthy pauses as I try to remember IDs and passwords learned after cognition started to fail.

Blood pressure is 147/97, temperature is 97.6, oxygen 96, GFR 40, blood sugar 381.  And there’s the kicker:  my body is simmering in a sugar-water stew.  What is 24-hour urine output?  Does it matter?

When I was at the Iroquois, I learned that I could care for others in little ways, mainly calling staff’s attention to other patients’ needs—the woman who was choking, the bandage that was unraveling on a man’s leg.  Here, in a single room at Crouse, there are no others.  Only occasionally is there a staff member who I can help—the nurse who was in tears over a family matter.

So what is the difference between being and doing?  Mentally and physically, there is very little that I can do.  All I can do is be.  Years ago I wrote of my life and entitled the book “Lilies in the Muck.”  We are; we do not do.

I would rather go on.  I could continue to be this way for years as glucose slowly eats away my kidneys, eyes, toes, but I would rather move on to death.  Is it my choice?  Why does God keep me here?  To sit around and look pretty [insert large laughter here]?

Yesterday my nephew called me.  In the past decade, my interactions with my siblings have been very rare and limited, tense, distrustful, and solely about a mission they needed to accomplish.  My nephew called just because he wanted to talk to family; he too is largely estranged from his family.  We talked for an hour and half and the conversation was easy, open and honest.  What we were able to see were the extraordinary parallels between his life and mine.

My birth trapped my mother in a bad marriage; his prevented his father from leaving a bad marriage.  We grew up in angry, dysfunctional families that were committed to maintaining the appearances of normality, but for some reason we were truth tellers.  We challenged the untruthfulness of the false things said to us, the false appearances created for us.  Consequently, at age 14, we both were sent into psychotherapy, which we hated.  We were judged to be “sick” because we wouldn’t subscribe to the family’s falsehoods.

We are both significantly smarter than the people who have power over us, consequently we are always bucking the system.  He is reprimanded for not doing things right and replies, “Well, the policy is . . .”  I receive substandard services and complain with “The law says . . .”

Marriages gone bad; babies born to keep the marriages together—marriages that only got worse.  Children raised in anger and deceit who refused to accept their roles as scapegoats.  Children who defied the family system to say I am good; I do belong; I should be.  And later defied all the social systems to say I am right.  We never could belong to the family system, so we learned to be strong, independent survivors and to live on the margin of the systems, challenging instead of succumbing.  We would not give in and not be.  We said I am.

God promised Abram and Sarai a baby but without a timeline.  They never considered that they might have to wait twenty-five years.  God has never promised me, individually, anything.  I travel on the generic God-promises in the Holy Bible:  “I will be your God and you will be my people.”  Yep, works for me.  But it would be easier if there was a timeline.

I have spent sixty-six years demanding my right to live.  Silly to think I could stop now.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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