“Do you have time to come home and help Dad? He fell and broke his leg.” Well, yes Mom, since you put it that way, I think I can find the time. And thanks for phrasing it in a non-urgent way so as not to alarm me and also give me an out in case I had an important meeting.
“I’m on my way,” I told her. Mom has a way of not wanting to impose and so even emergencies are cloaked in the soft composure of her Midwestern tendency to not make a big scene when her husband snaps his tibia like a hard pretzel.
I walked into the bedroom of my parents house and found my Dad on the floor at the foot of the bed, clothed only in white briefs and a small plate of breakfast goodies, holding a glass of grape juice and reclining on his side like the lord of beige carpet. He had been woozy before falling and went to sit on the edge of the bed. He was eating to remedy the blood sugar level that perhaps caused his fall.
“Are you hurting?” I asked. “No, not really,” said my Dad as he dangled the leg for me to see. I texted my brother, the physician from New York after we got to the hospital and sent him a picture of the leg with the caption, “His foot is floppin’ like a mackerel on a hot deck.”
“Isn’t it too early to make light of the injury?”, my brother texted back. I replied, “Yes…maybe, but the image just got into my head, sorry.” Laughing through side-reclining pain on the carpet reminds me of a Soren Kierkegaard story about his dream of getting to heaven and having one wish to spend.
“A strange thing happened to me in my dream…I was granted the favor to have one wish…”Do you wish for youth, or for beauty, or power? Choose, but only one thing!” For a moment I was at a loss. Then I addressed the gods in this wise: “Most honorable contemporaries, I choose one thing — that I may always have the laughs on my side.” Not one god made answer, but all began to laugh. From this I concluded that my wish had been granted and thought that the gods knew how to express themselves with good taste: for it would surely have been inappropriate to answer gravely: your wish has been granted.”
― Søren Kierkegaard
Many people have asked me, “How’s your Dad doing?” I usually give the upbeat pc answer, but occasionally I tell the truth, “Terrible, he’s not doing well,” and the inquiring person looks surprised, like that wasn’t what they expected to hear. Dad is 80, his bones are brittle, his heart is weak, and diabetes is relentless. And now he’s working through physical therapy for six weeks doing exertions he couldn’t do even before he broke the leg. So, yes, Dad is not doing well. But God still loves him, along with his family and friends, and he still has the wish of Kierkegaard, “…may I still have all the laughs on my side.”
Dad is irreverent with his caregivers, but calls them by name and is considerate in his own ironic way, always looking for someone to laugh at his jokes, even though he’s hurting. The nurse in charge of diet told him that he was 25 carb grams short of his daily goal and Dad told her that she could keep bringing it but that didn’t mean he was going to eat it.
I remember what Dad did when he woke up from heart surgery fifteen years ago and found himself alive in the recovery room draped in devices and tubes…he sang, “Oh Lord My God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds thy hands have made…”, and when he left the hospital, we had instructions to go next door to the Olive Garden where we bought $200.00 worth of bread sticks and pasta and brought it back to the medical staff at St. John’s. It was Dad’s way of having the last laugh, of understanding that all the laughs were on his side.
Kierkegaard was not a cheery fellow. He said things like, “What if everything in the world were a misunderstanding, what if laughter were really tears?” Dad isn’t Kierkegaard, he comes from the hills of Oklahoma near Bluejacket, where a yes is a yes and a handshake is a contract and pie suppers are don’t miss social events…and where laughter rings out even in the darkest night.
Dad chooses to live as if laughter is reality, and the hospital nurse takes him in the wheelchair to the table for dinner as he sings Willie Nelson, “On the road again, I just can’t wait to get on the road again.”
Dad knows all the laughs are on his side.