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A Sound at the Door
December Sunlight streamed through the window, creeping across the kitchen table where I huddled over one of my things-to-do list. The list was long and ragged. The week before I had dived into Christmas, and today I noticed I was to begin decorating the house. I pushed the list aside, washed the breakfast dishes, then dragged the paint-splotched ladder to the fireplace, intending to drape the mantle with cedar. But as I started up the ladder, the most astonishing thing happened. A sudden pain sliced across my chest-gripping, searing, frightening pain.
It vanished, and I took a deep breath, blinking at the room. Then without warning it came again, all across my chest. My heart meanwhile seemed to leap in my ears and beat against my eardrums.
Instinctively I reached for my pulse, as I had been taught to do in nurse's training, glancing at the second hand sweeping around the clock- 160 beats a minute. That couldn't be right. It should be half that! I slowed my breathing and counted again ... 162! My heart thundered, blocking every other sound from the room. The pain swelled, faded, returned. A thread of panic threatened to unravel in me as I walked to the phone and called the doctor.
"Come to the office immediately," I was instructed.
I hung up and dialed my husband at the college where he works as chaplain and religion teacher. I hesitated to drive myself to the doctor -- what if the pain came back...only worse?The phone in his office rang and rang. Please, Sandy, answer. Once again I could feel the odd sensation rising in my chest, could hear my pulse beginning to hammer in my ears faster and faster. Dear God...I gave up and grabbed my car keys.
Minutes later I was lying on the table in the doctor's office attached to an electrocardiograph, wondering how such an incomprehensible thing could happen to a healthy young woman. I'd never been sick, not really. As the doctor squinted at the squiggly lines on the EKG, all the sights and sounds swirling around me seemed strange and ominous -- the cold metal stethoscope on my skin, the syringe drawing blood from my arm, the network of wires attached to my chest and ankles, the rustle of EKG paper scrolling onto the floor. Never mind that I was myself a registered nurse. None of that prepared me in the least for being on the table myself. None of it made any difference now as the fear rose in me.
I tried to think of other things. Sandy, my husband. Our two children. I could see Bob, the oldest at eight with his straight, penny-brown hair and easy grin. Ann at four with curling hair and darkly fringed blue eyes. Suddenly I tried to sit up. Who was going to pick up Ann at play school at noon? And what about the Christmas cookies I was supposed to bake for Bob's school party tomorrow? Oh Lord, what am I doing here?
I simply didn't have time to get sick.
Somewhere in my head I harbored an image of myself holding up a big round sphere of family, career, home, church, community and self-like a smaller version of Atlas, the Titan who bore the earth on his shoulders. Unfortunately, the world
I carried around had gotten bigger and heavier, and I'd been spinning it as fast as I could to keep everything going the way I envisioned it should. I seemed to think if I stopped, if I let go, everything would tumble down and break into pieces, or at the very least develop a few cracks.
I wanted to be supermom, superwife, successful career woman, church pillar, community helper and fulfilled person, all at once. The past couple of years especially had been spent trying to accomplish all that. If I'd been inclined, perhaps I could have looked back over those months and seen how I was defining my life around those herculean expectations. But I was too busy, too lost in all my doings.
I Will Be a Writer...
A typical glimpse into that period of my life might be the morning a couple of years earlier when I had made an announcement at the breakfast table: "I've decided to become a writer." Sandy's eyebrows lifted slightly. No one said a word. Only the cereal popped in the bowl. "But Mama, you're already a nurse," Bob finally said.
"I know. But I'm going to be a writer, too," I replied, trying to convince myself as much as him. Even as a child I had always wanted to be two or three things when I grew up. I had no idea how I would manage it. I was working three evenings a week at the hospital, caring for the house and children during the day and trying to carry on an array of other activities. But writing was something I had to do.
I poked a spoon of oatmeal in Ann's mouth and hurried Bob toward the bathroom to brush his teeth. "When will you have time?" Sandy asked. "You're already carrying on two jobs." I hated it when he sounded so sensible.
"Organization," I proclaimed. "If you're organized, you can do just about anything."
He grinned a little.
After breakfast I phoned and signed up for a weekly night class in writing. Then I made out an organization chart. I drew a circle on a sheet of paper and divided it into five parts labeled family/household, career, church, social and self. For me life always fell into categories. My only control over the influx of demands seemed to be sorting and organizing it into form and order...
God's Joyful Surprise. Copyright © by Sue Monk Kidd. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.