Talkin’ About the Car Wash

If you’re familiar with old songs from the 1970s, you’ll know that the post title is a line from a song by Rose Royce—the titular song of the 1976 movie, Car Wash. (Go here if the video is not below. Some YouTube videos I’ve posted have disappeared in other posts.)

When I was a kid, I loved going to the automatic/tunnel car wash. Loved watching the big brushes on the sides of the car and the huge blowers. And just when I thought the car wash was over, other services my father asked for (like wax or an undercarriage wash), would begin. The more time in the car wash the merrier, I always thought!

My younger brother, however, was terrified of the experience. He would cover his eyes and sink low in the backseat. My older brother and I made fun of him, because we were exercising our sibling right to torment him. Yet as I look back on that today, I feel bad for mocking him for something he genuinely feared.

It’s interesting how as kids, our first response to someone else’s fear was often to laugh, especially if the fear is not one to which we can relate. “Fraidy/Scaredy Cat!” “What a baby!” Ever hear those phrases? I’ve said them. It’s what kids do.

There are some fears we grow out of. But others linger longer than childhood.

Awhile ago, someone told me that more people than ever are suffering from anxiety. It is certainly on the rise among teens as this article mentions. Many people have had debilitating panic attacks. But instead of empathy, some have been given advice along the lines of, “You need to get over it.” I wish I could pretend that these words weren’t uttered to someone I know. But they were.

That’s why I think of the car wash and the empathy I withheld from my brother. I didn’t understand the fear, so I didn’t offer support. Even into adulthood, sometimes I thought a push in the form of a platitude was enough to motivate someone whose situation I didn’t really understand. I ignorantly assumed that emotional obstacles could be readily surmounted in a short time span. That is, until I went through a period of grief myself.

Sometimes a kick in the pants is necessary to motivate someone who has the power to move on but procrastinates. But some emotional seasons go beyond a pat answer. Grief, anxiety—neither has a preset limit. Just when you think you’re out of it, like a car moving along a conveyor belt at the car wash, another stage begins. It’s over when it’s over.

So from now on, I’m giving pat advice the brush off. Daily I’m reminded to be quick to hear and slow to speak* when someone shares his or her pain.

Car wash image from clipartmag.com. Grief image from the Ridge Meadows Hospice Society.

*From James 1:19.

You Just Never Know

clematis_niobeI had another post ready to go, but in light of what’s happened, that one will have to wait.

I was talking to my mom today (Sunday) when another call came on her line—my aunt with news. My uncle (my mom’s younger brother and my aunt’s older brother) had passed out in his backyard. I talked to my dad while Mom called various siblings on her cell phone to gain more information. We soon found out that my uncle had had a massive heart attack.

As soon as I hung up, I texted my younger brother and sister-in-law to let them know what was going on. My sister-in-law called five minutes later. While we talked, another call came on her line. This time, it was Mom with news no one wants to hear: my uncle had died.

My brother, sister-in-law, and I quickly drove to my aunt’s (about an hour away), where we found her in shock. She kept saying, “I can’t believe this. We just went to the doctor. He had a clean bill of health. I just can’t believe this.” Over and over.

My uncle had gone out to mow the lawn. But when my aunt didn’t hear the lawn mower, she took a look out back and saw him lying on the grass. She said he looked as if he were resting. After screaming his name, she called 911 as she tried to revive him. An ambulance arrived within five minutes. But by the time they arrived at the nearest hospital, my uncle was dead.

We’re all a bit numb now. My uncle was only eight years older than me, my mom being the oldest in her large family. And as far as we knew, he had no history of heart disease. Our only consolation is that he didn’t suffer. It all happened so quickly.

You just never know when life will throw you a curve like that. All of the silly squabbling our family has engaged in over the years seems totally foolish now. We wasted so much precious time arguing.

I wasn’t going to write anything, because my heart is heavy right now. But I felt like I had to write this post to say that life is too short for petty arguments or misunderstandings people are too stubborn or prideful to clear up. At a funeral, you can’t clear those things up. It’s too late then.

There’s no guarantee that tomorrow is yours to have. But you have today. And today, you can do a lot to make amends, to tell someone you love him or her. Please don’t assume you have all the time in the world. I made that assumption in regard to my uncle. And now I have his funeral to attend.

Clematis from botanicalgarden.ubc.ca.

Shattered Hopes

I have close friends who grieve the recent loss of a child through miscarriage. Other family members also have lost a child this way. At first, I resisted writing this post due to the sadness of the topic, but this is a blog about writing and life. Grief is one of the harder parts of life.

Interestingly enough, I’ve come to the part in my novel revision where a baby has died. Life imitates art sometimes and vice versa.

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I’ve never had a child. I can’t, due to having been born with a malformed uterus. I won’t go into the ins and outs of that (and you might be squirming and hoping I won’t), but suffice it to say, I can’t have children. Though I can’t, that doesn’t mean I can’t understand the pain of hopes shattered and plans made that are now unmade. Just when you get used to the idea of welcoming a little one into your family, you have to say good-bye.

I can’t help thinking of King Théoden in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Two Towers (J. R. R. Tolkien). His son Théodred was much older, and in fact had been killed in a battle. But Théoden’s words ring true: “No parent should have to bury their child.”

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Sorrow wears many faces. There’s the sorrow of rejection when a manuscript you’ve worked on gets a no from an agent or editor. In some ways this feels like a miscarriage, and you have to deal with the shattered hopes and the unmaking of plans. (I said in “some ways,” so please don’t send me a how-dare-you-equate-human-life-to-a-manuscript message. Some of us can’t have children and can’t afford to adopt, so book “children” may be all the children we’ll get in this life.) You also have to deal with well-meaning people who tell you to “Snap out of it” or “Move on, you can write others,” just as grieving parents are told, “You can have other children” or “Be thankful for the one you already have.” As if they aren’t.

Another sorrow includes the disappointed expectations that come with broken relationships. I don’t have to tell you about those. I’m sure you’ve experienced them. You can’t live on this earth for long and escape that experience at least once or twice.

The sorrows of those close to you take a bite out of you. We were made to live in community. But sometimes, being in community hurts.

Cradle photo from lizcurtishiggs.com. Théoden (played by Bernard Hill) grieving photo from pinterest.com.