Thursday, October 28, 2004

A Different Kind of Salve

Although I promised myself to find a lighter topic for this week's story, I have spent the morning with my heart in my throat as I read the most recent spate of messages to Spenser and cannot be counted on to keep my commitment.

A prayer feather

A prayer feather

After reading so many caring notes, I am compelled to let our friends know how the missives have touched Spenser, Barry and the entire Twin Rocks family. The messages offer love, prayers, stories of similar experiences and many other things intended to assist Spenser. The offerings have touched me in a special way, and I feel obliged to thank all those people who are helping Spenser heal.

From the earliest hours of his ordeal, we have been stroking Spenser's head, arms and legs; telling him how much we love him, and how important it is for him to recover. At one point the doctors even asked us to stop touching him, saying they felt we may over stimulate him. Their cautionary advice did not, however, stop us long. As we stood by, willing him to wake, we could not quit holding his hand, kissing him, rubbing his head and massaging his muscles; we had to touch him and we had to love him. We needed him to know we were by his side, whether he was conscious or not.

As word of Spenser's accident spread, we were dumbfounded by the support we received; some from people we barely knew before the mishap. These people began to express their love in much the same way we had; deeply and consistently. Many people chose to let us know they were praying for Spenser, and others found different, equally touching ways to express their support.

Last week I received an e-mail from Floyd and Edda asking whether Spenser might have any use for a certain salve that is especially effective at growing new skin over serious wounds. Our friends wanted to know if Spenser had any outward injuries that might be cured by the cream. In the message, Floyd and Edda said their home was only five hours away, and they would bring the ointment to the trading post if it might help. It seemed extraordinary to me that they would offer to drive so far out of their way to assist Spenser, but his accident has elicited many similarly monumental outpourings of love.

Although Floyd and Edda's cream was not needed because Spenser's injuries are internal, their inquiry comprises one ingredient of a more important salve that I have seen work magic over the past month and a half. That particular balm, created with love, caring and extraordinary tenderness has made all the difference to Spenser. It has begun to heal injuries that seemed too large to contemplate only a few weeks ago and helped him overcome incredible odds.

When I spoke with Spenser this morning by telephone, I told him I had received a message from Clay and Judi, who wanted to give him a prayer feather blessed by a Hopi medicine man. The Hopi healer had said the feather will help make Spenser mend faster if his family love is strong enough. The love of Spenser's extended family of friends will make that a very powerful feather indeed. As I explained Clay and Judi's gift to Spenser, I could hear his interest grow. The conversation was interrupted by a fit of coughing, but when he came back on Spenser asked me to finish the story and said he looked forward to receiving the feather.

In spite of their role in Spenser's recovery, many people have told us they feel unable to help; that they feel powerless and don't know how to be more involved. I have tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to tell them their concern, love and caring is having more of an impact than they can imagine. Every week we give Spenser the e-mails, cards and letters we have received over the past seven days. You can almost see him improve as he reads the words, and his spirits soar to know there are so many people pulling for him.

The love and support contained in your messages is a balm stronger than any other. I have seen the love in your eyes, read it in your messages and know its healing properties. One day soon Spenser will be out of the hospital and back home. The support of his extended family of friends will be largely responsible for getting him there.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Thoughts on Human Nature

Spending six weeks in St. Mary's hospital with Spenser has given me a new perspective on how serious injuries affect an individual. I am certain this particular course of study would not be endorsed by Dr. Freud, however, since the old man has long since passed into the great beyond, we will never know for certain.

As I have been watching the patients in this hospital, the resident psychologist has been watching me. The bloke has taken to inspecting me rather closely, and has begun to ask disturbing questions like, "Do you realize you are constantly tugging at your right ear and mumbling incoherent statements?" I have asked the misdirected man to please leave me be, and to focus his attentions on someone more in need of his services. My requests have resulted in even closer scrutiny, and comments like, "Very curious."

Initially, I focused my attentions exclusively on Spenser and was unaware of the tragedy surrounding me. Spenser's ATV accident had caused serious head trauma, requiring complicated brain surgery that surely saved his life. Hour after hour I sat and watched my son, hoping and praying he would awaken from his deep sleep. As Spenser regained consciousness, he reached out to us with love, compassion and a deep-seated set of values.

The hospital staff who came to know Spenser grew to love him. He expressed his gentle nature with open appreciation for the kind and compassionate care of the doctors and nurses, which resulted in vigilant care that kept him from slipping away. It was at this time I began to form the hypothesis that an individual's true nature is revealed in life threatening situations.

As Spenser emerged, I also awakened to the world around me and my thesis began to gel. Not long after my awakening, I noticed a seemingly rough hewn individual in the room next to my son. This man had also sustained a head injury and was working his way back to the world he had known prior to the accident. His upbringing had apparently been close to the earth, which his colorful outbursts aptly demonstrated, and he returned there quite often. He seemed comforted by anything that took him back to the soil, and I realized I was seeing his raw, exposed persona; unvarnished by years spent away from the land.

After Spenser moved into the rehabilitation ward, and we established ourselves in his new room, he and I were regularly serenaded by a Navajo medicine man who sang and chanted traditional melodies. These songs and chants came in the wee hours of the night, and were provided by Hastiin Yanito. Mr. Yanito had been involved in a serious car accident several weeks prior to our arrival and was experiencing a recovery every bit as miraculous as Spenser's.

Since he had served a stint in the military and was educated as a teacher, Hastiin Yanito speaks English very well. The pain from his injury, however, took him back to his roots and traditional language. Often he spoke only Navajo to his doctors and nurses, exerting his special sense of self and pride in his strengths as a Native American, teacher and medicine man. Polite and distinguished, he expressed himself in traditional Navajo ways, which was revealed in his choice of language and means of expressing his beliefs.

Spenser often noticed the songs and chants drifting through the rehabilitation ward and seemed enchanted and calmed by the peaceful intonations. As a result, we had several discussions about Navajo culture and its origin. Spenser and I missed Hastiin Yanito when he moved from our floor to a rehabilitation facility in Mancos, Colorado, and wished him God speed.

After several weeks of careful investigation, I have concluded that no matter what we wish to portray, our real personality emerges when we are faced with life threatening injuries. Suffering coaxes the beauty or the beast from the hidden recesses of our minds, and we are incapable of hiding our true nature. I am proud to say that Spenser has proven his mettle through this ordeal; he has been polite, conscientious, kind and extremely determined to regain his full capacity. He has also never lost sight of what his mother and I have taught him about compassion and love for his fellow human beings.

Now that I have come to understand this aspect of psychology, I may go find that psychologist and discuss the ear tugging and incomprehensible statements. I may be able to teach him a thing or two about human nature, and I may have stumbled upon my next career.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 14, 2004

I Miss the Patipillers

"Dad, look, a patipiller," Dacia shouted as she spotted a fuzzy red and black caterpillar slinking across the trading post porch several years ago. We both crawled on our hands and knees following the tiny creature as it inched across the vast expanse of concrete. I still remember the look of wonder in my daughter's eyes as the hairy, many-legged projectile wandered off.

I also experienced the wonder, but for a different reason; I knew the time would come when every word emerging from my little girl's mouth would be perfectly recognizable, and wondered how that would make me feel. I was confident it would not give me the same warm sensation I felt at that moment.

Although it seemed I would enjoy many years of imperfect diction, that was not to be. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I was marveling at the sentences Dacia was able to form, and all those fabulous mispronunciations and malapropisms were gone. There were, to be sure, a few phrases I did not fully understand; but that apparently was intentional, not the result of misplaced letters or misused words.

Six years later Kira came along with a completely new vocabulary, and I was enchanted once again. She has long since given up asking to play games on the "papooter" and picking the "lellow" flowers, but I think of her almost every time I turn on my computer or see a stand of daffodils. The thought of Kira struggling with her language skills sometimes helps me forget the stresses of trading post life, and reminds me what is really important.

Even Grange is beginning to progress from throwing "woks," being "firsty" and wearing "wed jammies," to hurling stones, asking for a drink of water and sleeping in red Spider-Man sleepers. Last night, the rain came, with bright flashes of lightening and loud crashes of thunder. I felt that warm glow envelop my heart when I heard Grange explain to his mother how the "funder" was cracking and the "wain" was falling.

On the west side of the trading post is a tangle of bicycles, scooters and a "Booley" bike trailer. Some of the equipment has not been used for years; because it is too small, too pink or just not cool enough. Every time I attempt to thin the heap by pitching part of it in the dumpster, the discarded article magically reappears at its original location before the trash man arrives to cart it off. I have been informed that sentimentality is the explanation for this phenomenon.

Jana and I often work with Grange to improve his speech and correct the mispronounced words. Just as the kids continue to retrieve the equipment littering the porch, from time to time I talk with Grange about "fighterfire" heroes and "oneing" in the morning; just to ensure he does not grow up too fast. Maybe I am being a little self-centered, but I want to keep him young a while longer. Call it sentimentality or call it selfishness, although the kids have made great progress in language arts, I find myself hungering for the days when Dacia made me chuckle every time she wanted to visit the "stupermarket" for a treat.

Living and working at the trading post has given me an unusual opportunity to experience the day to day development of my children. Often Grange will grab a bicycle or scooter, motor up to the front door, look inside to see what I am doing and yell, "Love ya dad!" When I tell him I love him too, he just says, "yep," and moves on to the next item on his agenda.

I already miss the patipillars and lellow flowers, and will surely long for the funder when it no longer crashes outside my door. Yep.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 7, 2004

Mormons, Methodists, Baptists and Bikers

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I sat in room 3317 of St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado and began to drift into a mid-afternoon nap. Jana and I had been visiting Spenser the prior evening and had stayed into the early morning hours talking with Barry, so I was a little tired when we returned the following day. As I fell asleep, my mind began thumping to a pulsing, rhythmic sound.

All at once I realized the pounding in my head was actually the memory of helicopter blades whirring in the background of a cell phone call I received while standing behind the trading post counter almost five weeks ago. Since I am a child of the Vietnam era, helicopters always make me anxious. They remind me of tragedy, and injured and dying young men. Although I was too young to have been involved in the conflict, I vividly remember watching the evening news broadcasts and have seen all the movies. So, on that particular day, the thumping of blades confirmed my worst fears.

Michelle’s exact words have escaped me, but the fear I felt upon receiving her telephone message frequently returns, climbs up my throat and threatens to spill out my tear ducts. The gist of Michelle’s message was that Spenser had been in a serious accident and had to be airlifted off the mountain. As I hung up the phone, I could not get the sound of that helicopter out of my mind. It was that sound that had startled me from my slumber; the pounding rhythm that to me now represented both injury and salvation.

A follow-up call requested me to meet Barry and Laurie at the filling station in Monticello and drive them to the hospital. By that time I knew Spenser had been in an ATV accident and had suffered serious trauma to his brain. When we arrived in Monticello, Barry stood at the roadside waiting, his clothes stained with the blood of his son; my nephew. The scene constricted my throat and made it difficult to breath. After a trip I feared would last into eternity, we arrived at St. Mary’s just in time for the neurosurgeon to inform us he was taking Spenser into surgery; the situation, he said, was extremely troubling.

It was at that moment I realized my right hand had been severed, and there was a very real threat my heart would be torn from my chest; I have never been so frightened. I knew I could cope with losing my right hand while he helped his son, but I would not survive without my heart. I desperately needed that young man to live. The thought of no longer having Spenser running around the trading post shook me as I have never been shaken.

We found our way to the waiting room, staked out a position and waited for the surgeon to return. At about 3:00 a.m., I noticed the man lying on the couch opposite us begin to shiver. Jana had been able to secure blankets from a nurse and we had an extra, so I walked over and placed one on the man’s large frame. As I did so, I noticed he had a long beard, ponytail and tattoos covering his shoulders and arms. Oddly, as I placed the cover on him, the only thing I could make out in that tangle of tattoos was “JESUS.” That struck me as strangely incongruent; here was someone I would generally associate with the Hell’s Angles motorcycle group sporting religious symbols.

Later that morning this bear of a man awoke and inquired whether my brother-in-law Amer and I were responsible for covering him. When we affirmed we were, he asked why we were there. We explained Spenser’s circumstances, and he said, “Well, can we pray?” As we knelt on the waiting room floor, he said one of the most beautiful and meaningful prayers I have heard in a very long time. He later told us he was a member of the motorcycle group Soldiers for Christ, and that he had called his friends to place Spenser’s name on a prayer circle, where people all over the world would be praying for our nephew. The thought of countless people like this man praying for Spenser was extremely comforting, and left me feeling more at ease and more hopeful.

As the weeks have worn on, our Mormon friends, relatives and neighbors have reported that they have been praying and fasting for Spenser’s full recovery. Even the local elementary and middle school students gave up their lunches to ensure Spenser makes it through this ordeal. Our friend Fran early on informed us that her Methodist and Baptist friends had also placed Spenser’s name on prayer lists. All this positive energy and love directed at Spenser has surely helped improve his condition.

As my mind drifted back into focus, I could see Spenser lying in his hospital bed, sleeping peacefully. Over the past weeks, he has crept back, step by step, from the edge of the abyss. To us, Spenser’s improvement is nothing short of miraculous; obviously the result of the love, caring and prayers of the Mormons, Methodists, Baptists, bikers, Catholics, Navajo medicine men, and many others who claim no particular spiritual allegiance. All these individuals have helped keep us sane during an insane period. Thank you.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post