Family Friday: How a Little Cheer Can Brighten Up the World

A few weeks ago, I wrote about enjoying the chance encounters with neighbors that help us connect as a community, Why Small Talk is Big Time. That piece inspired my friend N in Boynton Beach to share how she took on the challenge one morning to offset all the negative chatter in this crazy world with some happiness.

Here is what N told me.

The news is full of quarrel

Before I went out to do a few errands, I read the newspaper and saw all the now-usual stories or people rudely shouting at each other without either side listening to the other.  And as I headed to the bank, I decided to spread (as someone or other once said) sunshine and light.  

N, a reader in Boynton Beach, FL

Harassed bank teller all smiles

The customer ahead of me at the bank was absurdly slow.  When I got to the teller, she was obviously fuming and immediately began apologizing. I held up a hand and said, ” You obviously did your job efficiently, you were just being polite to a person who needed to chat. Please don’t apologize, just take a deep breath. I’ll be quick and I hope the rest of your day is better.”  

Wow! She almost jumped, before she took care of me and asked me to please come back tomorrow. (I didn’t, but oh well.)

N, a reader in Boynton Beach, FL

As if she’d gotten a new Mercedes

Then I went to the post office.  Someone was struggling with two boxes.  We were both masked.  So, I took one and helped her inside.  

She was so happy to be helped, you would have thought I had given her a new Mercedes.  

N, a reader in Boynton Beach, FL

Chiming along makes his day

Walking out I heard a postal worker loading his truck with difficulty, start to curse, pause to control himself and then continue in a totally furious voice,”Mary had a little lamb.”  

He was so mad it almost sounded obscene, but I decided (from 25 or so feet away just in case he was mad enough to attack) to keep my game going, so I sang out, “Its fleece was white as snow.”  And he started cracking up.  

N, a reader in Boynton Beach, FL

A 90 minute shower of sweetness and light

So in under 90 minutes I spread three bits of sweetness and light during a pandemic.

N, a reader in Boynton Beach, FL

Wow. How easily we ignore these opportunities to make someone’s day, or, worse yet, let others’ anxiety and anger spill over into us.

My Amsterdam nurses are still my cheerleaders

Here’s a recent photo my band of nurses in from my 2019 illness in Amsterdam who continue to make me smile. They rise to the occasion every day to help their patients deal with illness, and my heart overflows with gratitude for them.

My nurses at OLVG Hospital are STILL in my corner!
My nurses at OLVG Hospital are STILL in my corner!

What can you do this week?

So, here’s the challenge: what can you do this week to lighten a stranger’s load? And, when you do, please let me know, because it’s really so simple and so profound that I’d love to share it here.

Wellness Wednesday: How Am I a One-in-a -Million Outcome?

In her opinion column in the Sunday New York Times, Dr. Daniela J. Lamas writes about unexpected ICU turn-arounds, when the grim repetition of bad news is trumped by unanticipated good news:

… the one in a million outcomes, the patients who surprise and humble us.

Daniela J. Lamas, pulmonary and critical care physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston

I am one of those patients. I dodged death on May 5, 2019, when I suffered a ruptured arterial aneurysm while on vacation in Amsterdam, barely making it into the ER as my heart stopped. I dodged it again after sailing through surgery a day later, and repeatedly over the next several weeks, as my organs took turns failing. Somehow, I survived.

As tempting as it is to focus only on life or death in the ICU, there is a vast world between survival and true recovery.

Daniela J. Lamas, pulmonary and critical care physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston

And here I sit in the patio of our home in South Florida two years and two months later, on this Independence Day, celebrating that rarest of miracles, full recovery. What made the difference? Being lucky enough to be taken to OLVG Hospital, for starters, where the staff were skilled, compassionate, and supportive. Being strong to start with. Trained by my early years to make the best out of any situation. And laughter.

Skill and compassion

The talented team of English-speaking doctors and nurses at OLVG hospital acted fast to stop the hemorrhage and never gave up as my body crashed, and they were also compassionate human beings that supported me and my exhausted family through those awful ICU weeks.

Support

My dear friend Anne, one of the nurses who most encouraged me in the weeks after my surgery, was so matter of fact about the inevitability of my complete recovery, so relaxed about my progress, that I never once doubted that I’d make it. My physiotherapist, Gemma, was sure I’d walk out of there. And I did.

Anne and her colleagues on 7A, OLVG Hospital, sent me this greeting a few weeks back. They are still in my corner.

Strength

It helped tremendously that I was physically fit. I danced in my 20s, developed a lifetime jogging habit, and taught exercise for the five years preceding that fateful trip. Six weeks of being motionless in the ICU sapped me of a quarter of my weight and the ability to move, but I had a surplus muscle and a love of moving to draw on. Eventually, it felt familiar. Then, good. Then, great.

Determination

I’ve never been particularly ambitious, but I’m very good at making the most of whatever circumstances I find myself in. I give credit to my upbringing in the Foreign Service. Learning how to chew and swallow again took days. Learning how to walk again took months. Full recovery took two years, and I continue to book an hour of my morning, every morning, to getting stronger every day.

Laughter

My love of a good community laugh has carried me over many a hurdle. I think I have to thank my Dad for that gene in my DNA, along with my passion for writing and my love of singing.

Words matter — a lot. Choose them carefully. Humor and wit matter — a lot. And puns are always good. And, music matters — sing it, play it, listen to it.

My sister, Susan Robb Amerson Hartnett, eulogizing our father, Robert C. Amerson in 2006

Lying inert in my ICU bed, unable to move and fighting for my life, I broke out into song — “Barbara Ann” by the Beach Boys. Although I don’t remember much of those weeks, I clearly recall hearing an ICU alarm marking that iconic beat — “Bah, bah, bah” (rest) “Bah, bah, bah” (rest) — and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to pick up the tune, just as I did many times while teaching exercise with this fun music.

Bah, bah, bah, (rest) bah, Barbara Ann (rest). Bah, bah, bah, (rest) bah, Barbara Ann (rest).Bah, bah, bah, (rest) bah, Barbara Ann (rest)

Barbara Ann, by Fred Fassert, recorded by The Beach Boys in 1965

My sister and my daughter (who had flown in from the States) smiled at my husband. “That’s her,” my sister said, and joined in with the harmony. Within moments, my family and nearby nurses and doctors added their voices, all of them laughing.

Starting my next book

All of which has got me ready to begin the book about all this. Working title: “Singing in the ICU: How A Community of Strangers Saved My Life.” Or something along those lines, witty and musical and wordy as Dad would have wanted.

Stay tuned!

My father, Robert Amerson, and me singing in Caracas circa 1956
My father, Robert Amerson, and me singing in Caracas circa 1956

Weekend Wildcard: Poet Kate Hutchinson’s Abecedarian Pandemic Poem

Today, I am sharing a timely and thought-provoking poem by fellow blogger poet Kate Hutchinson (bio below) as she looks back at the year of pandemic. It’s an abecedarian poem, a new term for me but a logical one: she takes a look at COVID, from A to Z. I found it inspiring my thinking back with gratitude, sorrow, and perspective.

It All Matters

Antiseptics. Air for our lungs and air hugs for our hearts.

Boxes of beans plus blue skies and bikes and bare feet.

Clorox on the shelf along with cat food, chocolates and coffee.

Doctors, yes, and drive-thru windows and drive-by birthdays.

Exercise, elastic waistbands, evergreen trees in the yard.

Facts over falsehoods . . . and Facebook. Food kitchens.

Gloves and newly-gray hair and grandparents on screens.

Hospitals full of heroes plus houseplants and hummingbirds.

IV drips, igloos outside restaurants. Vivid imaginations.

Jeans, jammies, jigsaws, Jeopardy! and Jupiter kissing Saturn.

Keeping our distance but keeping the faith. Kindness.

Libraries, leaves greening then falling on lawns. Love.

Masks and music and movies and mothers and miracles.

Nurses, oh yes. Newspapers and neighbors on the front porch.

Oximeters, ovens full of bread. Open minds, open hearts.

Personal protective equipment. Pets on laps and leashes. Poetry.

Q-tip swabs and questions on quarantining.

Remdesivir plus reading, reading, reading.

Steroids, sourdough starter, and solos on balconies.

Too much toilet paper and time on treadmills. Tireless teachers.

Ultraviolet light and unsung heroes all around us.

Ventilators. Vaccines! Vegetables from our own gardens.

Windows kept open and long walks and wine.

X-rays of lungs, experts who temper our expectations.

Yeast and yarn and yoga and yearning for normal.

Zoom gluing us together under zillions of stars.

~ Kate Hutchinson

The golden sunset peaks through the clouds above the horizon on Juno Beach, Florida last Thanksgiving. Photo: Jane Kelly Amerson López

From “Both Sides of the Window,” Kate Hutchinson’s blog:

Kate Hutchinson recently retired from teaching high school English, and she has on occasion taught poetry writing at a local university.  Her first chapbook of poetry, The Gray Limbo of Perhaps, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2012 and is available at their website (linked to the right). A full-length collection of her poems and prose-poems, Map Making: Poems of Land and Identity, was released by THEAQ Press (Rosemount, MN) in 2015.  It is available through Amazon or directly from the author upon request.

Kate has had poems and short essays published in many literary magazines and anthologies since she began writing professionally in the early 2000’s, and several of her pieces have earned recognition in local or national contests.  Her poem “Fowler Ridge Wind Farm,” winner of the 2010 Mobius literary magazine poetry contest, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  A second Pushcart nomination came in 2018 for a golden shovel poem written on the day of Elie Wiesel’s death, which uses the Emily Dickinson line, “Hope inspires the good to reveal itself.”

Blogging is Kate’s way of forcing herself to write and think about the deeper elements of life amidst the daily demands of job, family, and home.