But somehow, it already feels over. Or maybe just the knowledge of how quickly an “almost-over” moment becomes an “over” moment feels especially present on this gray, rainy day near the end of the year in Boston.
I spent the past nine days in upstate New York. My sister had flown into Boston from California on December 7 with the idea that we would drive to my parents’ New York home the following day and surprise my parents with her visit. She only gets back to the East Coast once or twice a year, and she thought it would be nice if one of her visits this year coincided with my father’s 83rd birthday.
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
So wrote Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1785, giving birth to the phrase you have more likely heard translated as: “The best laid plans of mice and men go often awry.”
My parents’ house is located on an old dirt road that climbs a small mountain in a rural farming town. The moment my husband, my sister, and I pulled into their driveway my mother threw open the window to her upstairs bedroom and called out for us to help. My father had fallen. We rushed inside and my sister stayed downstairs while Jean-Paul and I ran up the steps and found my father lying on the floor, not badly hurt but shaken and unable to stand up on his own. It wasn’t until 20 minutes later, after Jean-Paul had helped my father up and into a chair, that my sister quietly climbed the stairs, entered his room, and surprised my parents with her visit.
What my sister and I had hoped would be a week of pleasant dinners with my parents, holiday shopping, and perhaps a trip to a cinema center to see a movie or two instead was a difficult time. We drove my father to the hospital the day after we arrived and he was diagnosed with dehydration for the second time in six months. The dehydration had caused him to become weaker and to fall. It became clear that his Parkinson’s Disease, which he has had for many years, has progressed to the point where he needs some assistance. But he is a proud man who was always physically strong and able and independent, and this transition to a time of limited abilities and needing help is not coming easily or smoothly. My mother is 78 and can’t manage everything on her own, however, so the transition will have to take place.
Jean-Paul returned to Boston when my father was released from the hospital, and my sister and I spent the week running errands, cleaning the house, driving my parents to medical appointments, and attempting to arrange for the assistance that my parents don’t want and are unhappy to accept. My father has slowly recovered from the latest incident, but is far from feeling truly well.
Then, on Friday, a 20-year-old killed 20 children and six women in an elementary school in Newtown, CT. I saw the number of the dead flash across a television screen in a doctor’s office where I was sitting with my father.
Yesterday I returned to Boston. A friend of mine who I see once every few years happened to be in town for 24 hours. He is a music tech who has worked with some of the most famous musicians in the world – he tours with U2, for example, which is how I met him during my years in the music business. Currently, he is on tour with an American band called, too horribly ironically, The Killers (which is really a shame, because the name doesn’t reflect their music at all).
I met my friend at a downtown hotel, and we walked through the cold, sleeting rain to a bar across the street. And this friend, whom I rarely see and who has been traveling the world from city to city and hotel to hotel, understood with one glance at my stricken face that I simply needed to sit and talk, and to feel the presence of a friend. So we did just that – we sat at that bar for almost two hours over two beers (his) and two glasses of wine (mine). We talked about everything and about nothing…my family news, the B&B he and his wife run in Ireland, his young daughter (age 7, I looked at her photo on his Blackberry), their dog Ella, their new kitten Sparkles. He didn’t mind when I suddenly was at a loss for more to say, or when I asked him silly questions about well-known musicians whom I will never meet.
When I got up to leave, he stood and hugged me and kissed me on the cheek, and then sat down again to finish his beer. And I stepped back out into the cold, street-lit night in the middle of downtown Boston and thought, Thank God for friends when there is “nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy”.