Say What You Need to Say
Say What You Need to Say: May 15, 2018
I had just finished a first coat of pink on my toenails—it’s finally spring here now that it’s almost summer. Emma and Jack came in my bathroom to give me homemade Mother’s Day cards and a preschool art project necklace. That’s when we heard Mark shouting.
I ran through the house as best I could, avoiding the dog and the children who kept getting in front of my feet and asking what was wrong. What was wrong was Mark writhing on the concrete patio clutching his bloody leg and screaming for me to call 911. He’d been on the roof blowing off the pollen, but now the ladder was hung up in the screen porch door and his shoe was stuck between the top two rungs. Jack was staring, Emma was crying, I was running for my phone after throwing Mark a towel to stop the bleeding.
I rushed back out with another towel while trying to tell the operator our address and the reason for the 911 call. Aaron, our two-doors-down neighbor was with Mark, hand on shoulder, reassuring him and my children that help was on the way. I picked up Emma and carried her with me to the front door to watch for the ambulance. About 30 seconds later a white car cruised into the driveway and I thought, “That was fast. And I wasn’t expecting a Subaru.” A kind-looking woman leapt out of the passenger seat, striding toward the house and saying, “Is everything okay? We heard screaming?” I told her the EMTs were on the way. She said, “Okay, great, I’m a nurse. I’ll just go have a look, okay, while we wait?” and continued walking past me into the house. I obediently followed and pointed her to the back door where she took things in hand, ordering ice and pillows.
Jack sprinted to get the ones off his bed, which is how Mark ended up with a Spiderman pillow in the Emergency Room. Emma drew a picture she placed on Mark’s chest while whimpering, “I love him so much!” The nurse’s husband, Wayne, came over to introduce himself and Susan; and he followed me back to the driveway, waving to the ambulance that had just arrived.
I asked Wayne to talk to the ambulance people. I asked Aaron to move the ladder. I asked Susan to take the icepack. I asked Jack to hug Emma. I asked Emma to hug Jack.
It was a work Sunday for me. I was supposed to be at Buncombe Street UMC to meet with the Communion Class. I was planning to attend two worship services. At the early traditional service I would have heard this scripture reading: “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.” (Acts 10: 44) At the later contemporary service I would have heard this one: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) Instead of hearing these lessons, I witnessed them.
Aaron cleared away the ladder and cords. Wayne directed the EMTs. Susan kept up a steady, calm narration while keeping Mark from passing out. Jack kept Emma entertained inside with flashlights. Emma made sure Grady, our dog, was okay.
To get Mark on the stretcher and around the side of the house required some extra help from a fire unit. While waiting for them to arrive, Mark asked the EMT if the wound were life-threatening because if so, he needed to tell me some things. The EMT said, “I can’t tell how bad the leg is until we get you to the ambulance, but you say what you need to say to your wife,” which was, I think, a wise and helpful response. Mark asked me if I knew about life insurance and our wills and such, which I do because I’m the one who keeps up with all that stuff in the first place, but who knows what tenderness could emerge from spouses who are burdened by guilt or who aren’t generally demonstrative or who never say I love you to the people they love?
‘Say what you need to say’ is not bad life advice.
I called my Dad and asked him to meet the ambulance at the hospital. His presence would calm Mark down and give me a chance to figure out what to do about Jack and Emma. I knew I could easily call my friends at Buncombe Street and explain, but I figured the bit of normalcy and routine might do both the kids and me some good. I decided they should go with me.
I proposed this plan and Emma said, “Can we stay with Susan?” Eagerly, happy with any excuse to miss church, Jack said, “Yeah! Let’s do that!” Susan and Wayne had already offered this, but since we’d never met them, I thought the kids would be leery, and anyway, was it safe to leave them with ‘strangers’? Strangers who’d just rushed to our aid, admittedly, but still.
While Susan had been inside charming my children, Wayne had quietly been cleaning the patio. He straightened the furniture, washed away all the blood, rewound the hose, closed the gate.
Stalling for time I suggested I fix breakfast. Susan said, “Oh, we have waffles and strawberries and blueberries. Could they eat that? They’re welcome to join us.” At this point, only the addition of glitter could make this woman more endearing to my daughter.
We exchanged phone numbers. I gave them a key to the house. I locked the doors and went to Sunday School. I was ministered to by those kind folks and their prayers; and luckily for them, I had a Board member with me who did a fabulous job with the actual talking part of the class.
When I called Daddy to check in after Sunday School, they’d just received the reports of the x-rays. No broken bones. No torn ligaments or tendons. No blood vessels compromised. After a ladder collapsing under him, getting his foot stuck in the top rungs, hanging upside down for some seconds while the ladder crashed into the screen door and falling over the porch steps and headfirst onto cement, Mark was leaving the hospital with scrapes and bruises, 7 stitches, a sprained ankle and his wife’s ultimatum never to get on another roof. It makes me teary just to type this. It could have been life-changingly worse. I was achingly grateful, as I’ve been before, for what didn’t happen.
The blessings didn’t end there. We were supposed to meet up with our newish friends Katherine, Mark and Gowan in the afternoon. Instead, they agreed to drive across town, pick up our kids (from the neighbors we didn't know) and take them to a museum. Afterwards they went to the store and came home with a big bag of ice for Mark’s ankle and the salad fixings we added to our impromptu dinner party. Daddy came, too, and brought a cane for Mark to borrow. He was pleased to be reacquainted with the grown daughter of family friends from years earlier. Katherine had been one of my babysitters.
If I’d been able to worship at Fourth Presbyterian, my home church, I would have heard this scripture: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” I John 3:18. And this one: “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” Galatians 3:26.
In the morning, I’d passed Wayne and Susan’s church. I texted them a picture and said, “Just passed this on my way to the hospital. Y’all are living the gospel today, my friends.”
Everyone I encountered this unforgettable Mother’s Day was living the gospel of love, not in speech but in truth and action. EMTs, neighbors, doctors, nurses, friends, family—everyone was love in action.
On the way home from the hospital Mark and I stopped by Susan and Wayne’s house—Wayne wanted to return the key. We thanked them and thanked them, and Susan said, dismissively, “You’d have done the same for us.” And yes, of course we would. We have for others. We will again.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Love in action.
On Monday, Emma and I baked chocolate chip pies for Aaron’s family; for Susan and Wayne; for Katherine, Mark and Gowan. Emma and Jack wrote and colored notes to them, and, after homework, we took our offerings and our thanks. Mark stayed home with ice on his ankle all day, except when he was repairing and rehanging the screen door. That man!
And so again I can end a blog post with this prayer:
On this day I thank God for second chances, for nurses and neighbors, for an athletic husband with strong bones. Thank you for one more glorious, frustrating, loud, normal day. Thank you, Lord, for what didn’t happen.
And thank you for what did.