When your otherwise coordinated husband falls out of his wheelchair not once but twice in one week, we know the world is extra topsy turvy. When it’s mid April and snow and freezing rain continue to fall angrily outside, I question Mother Nature’s decision making process. When bad things continue to happen to good people– kids on a school bus, the man who died crashing into their school bus, innocent babies in Syria, teenagers and teachers struggling with school violence, friends with cancer– I question my God, my faith, and my normally optimistic disposition.
On Tuesday, a friend and I drove south to meet another friend for dinner. The sun was out, yet snow poured down all around us in big fat, floating flakes more of the January persuasion than April. The friend we were meeting had called to say she was waiting for us at the restaurant and asked where we were.
“Mile Marker 80,” I replied winking at my co-pilot.
“Where is that?” questioned the voice on the blue tooth.
“I’m not sure, close to Plymouth though,” I replied doing the math in my head that Plymouth is roughly 25 minutes south of Lincoln, and each mile marker takes about a minute to pass if I’m driving roughly the speed limit, perhaps a little faster. Mile markers are predictable. Linear. They give me direction and time and distance, concrete, tangible measurements I can count on. My friend in the car with me had never used the mile markers along the side of the interstate as a way of measuring distance.
Some days I wish everything were that easy to measure. Parenthood: Are we doing this right? The teenage brain, which as of late, has been collectively extra moody, uneasy, and complex in my classroom; this could also be blamed on Mother Nature’s inability to move forward into spring. Life as a teacher. How many more mile markers until I retire like Mr. Baker? Make no mistake; I love my role as an educator, but come spring or, in this case, our extended winter, I’m ready to NOT read any more essays and NOT imagine other ways I could engage this one student in his or her own learning. Mortality. How many steps are on the stairway to heaven? Marriage. Days measured in alarm clocks and school papers and lunch boxes and laundry and playing outside and finding our crocus and picking up piles of other people’s dog poop in my yard and sitting down each night across the table to smile hoping tomorrow will be easier.
My car smells like sour milk because several weeks ago I placed a gallon on the floor. When I got home I noticed it was leaking on the rubber mat, but it seemed to be contained to the mat. So I washed the mat. What I didn’t know is that the leak moved beyond the mat into the carpet and then froze again for weeks and did not smell because it was frozen. This week, as the world thawed again, so did the sour milk. And, well, it smells really bad.
Life sometimes smells like sour milk, and, well, I really wish it wouldn’t. Like Margaret in Judy Blume’s Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, I’m looking for some answers to questions–unrelated to puberty– that I didn’t have when I was 15 or 20 or even 30. But I’m 43, and there are some mile markers I am missing. Not having the answer or the solution to the problem is frustrating. How can I tell my husband that he should consider a lower vehicle now that he is getting older and not have that diminish his independence? How can I suggest to him that falling out of his wheelchair might have something to do with the fact that his arms are so very tired from hiking the Tuckerman Ravine trail on Mt. Washington and skiing out a very sketchy Sherbourne Trail last weekend? How can I say, “Babe, these are some mile markers we ought to pay attention to so that we can experience other kinds of family adventures together?”
And in life’s uncertainty, there are mile markers of humanity to reaffirm our hope. They come in the form of heroic bus drivers named Earlene who skillfully swerves far enough off the road to avoid the oncoming car but not so far as to flip the bus; they come in the form of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies dropped off on a Friday night by a neighbor returning the container that once held chicken noodle soup we had dropped off for her during chemotherapy treatments; they come in the form of Dana Farber cancer trials; they come in the form of one of my mom friends telling an older lady from her congregation in the store checkout line (yes, I was eavesdropping– I do that) that she missed seeing her at church lately and hoped everything was okay. The older lady squeezed her hand and said, “Thank you, I’ve been having some troubles, but I’m really ok.” And we will be too– even if our crocus and daffodils, our mile markers of spring, are now buried beneath new snow.