Monday, August 3, 2009

Compression, Expansion, Illumination

Last November my sister
came out of her coma.

In haste I flew to her bedside--my baby ever attached to my body--from Utah to Arizona. In the morning my parents picked me up at the airport and we drove straight to the hospital.

I rehearsed everything I wanted to say to her. I wanted to assure her children were at my home, her baby with Lucy. We had sheltered them from the whirlwind of the last several months. We sent them to school, fed them and checked on their little sleeping bodies at night. I wanted to tell her how much I loved her, how I wish I had more energy to expend on her behalf, even though my body was given dual purposes; keep her babies alive, keep my baby alive. Gratefully, energy was like milk, when it was depleted, my body produced more.

But she wasn't feeling like visitors.

A kind nurse came out to talk to us, "This is typical. Please don't think it's because she doesn't love you, she does. Give her a little time to be alone." The extreme shock of coming-to had caught up with her spirit and these were dark days. And in that moment, the surrealism of survival had come to an end for me too. Suddenly I knew what lay ahead. It was a laborious road of recovery, both emotional and physical. The hardest part.

I nodded my head, and looked down at my baby. My parents spoke with the nurse a little longer and we turned to leave. In the car we started to drive through downtown Phoenix. I sat in the backseat with my crying baby in the car seat next to me. I was a spectrum of emotions. Angry at myself for being so assumptive. Desperate for comfort. Desperately sad. My chest was tight and I was tiredly fighting the sterotype that I was invincible, strong. I was vulnerable to the unknown months ahead. I was flatlining. Choking from emotional claustrophobia.

In trying to explain the cacophony of voices in my head, I spewed out trails of rage as we drove slowly through Old Town Scottsdale. My baby cried, I cried and my parents actively listened. But their ability to be what I needed at that point was asking a lot of them. I knew that.

We share these things, these experiences, these tragedies like spiders on the same web. My sister's pain was felt to some degree by all of us. I would like to have carried more, but I was wasted. I wanted to write her a note, tell her I was sorry for my shortcomings, and get back on the plane. Instead, Dad drove us to the desert, up a windy, cactus-lined drive to Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's winter compound and campus.

A quick lady with a sun hat was our tour guide. She hopped along and spoke with infatuation about the infamous architect. Dad's salty questions about Wright's past were kindly refused. But as we moved from structure to structure we were instructed of the mastermind's play with compression and expansion.

A stuffed entry way pushes into a spacious sunlit room used for socializing. A dark tunnel opens to a grand theater draped in red velvet. An outdoor walkway molds into a tight maze of plaster and leads to an open pool of water. All around us we fell victims to confinement and became followers to the increase of something bigger, larger, better.

Our small group crowded in a doorway bumping into each other, waiting for the dim light to reveal surroundings. Our guide waited until we were sufficiently uncomfortable before she allowed the group to expand into the next illuminated space. As the group moved slowly, I sat down on a bench, cramped and crouching in the gray light. The baby was hungry and I needed to feed him, which I did as the tour continued. From the next room I could hear the group gasping with delight.

There in that little space I sat for awhile in quiet. I tried to feel the ghost of Mr. Wright. I wanted to tell him that I understood his symbolic representation of the human experience. I knew this space was created for me to appreciate the next. And quietly I nursed my baby and quietly I made peace with the compression.

Compression promises expansion. Dark promises light. Voices ahead increase hope. Tired would become energy. Pain would become stimulus. Choking would be breathing.

When my baby was full, I readjusted my body and shirt, put him back in the stroller. With a quiet resolve I moved towards the yellow light at the end of the hall.

It did not disappoint.

*photo from here.


Trish said...

Tonight, I have to thank you. I've had this post in the back of my mind since the day I first read it. At the time, I was enduring extreme difficulty. And I simply could not see the end of it.
But your words gave me hope. I held on through the painful compression.
I finally made my way through my own cramped, grey room toward the yellow light, and this past weekend came out on the other side.
You were right, it is beautiful. And it made every moment I waited worthwhile.
Thank you.

Megan Marie said...

Wow, this hit me with such power tonight. Sure, it's pretty late and my emotions are a little heightened, but I cannot deny the wonderful peaceful feeling I felt. Thank you. I wish Stephanie and your family all the best as you celebrate this day and her chance at life. Thank you for the inspiration and it will help me through this slight compression I am in currently.
Ps I really want to go on this tour now.

Susan said...

Thank you for refreshing my memory of this post. Perfect then, perfect now, a powerful and lasting tribute. Love your writing, always look forward to more. On a side note, blessings for another year of compression, expansion, illumination.

Mama Mogantosh said...

Happy two-year anniversary to all of you Courtney. This post is beautiful. And so are you! Your ability to find and express the words that describe such complex pain and suffering must be deeply helpful to your lovely family. Good job, you. x

Jenn said...

That was a most amazing post Courtney! I don't know how I missed that last year - I thought I read them all. Thanks for re-posting. I SO envy those with the gift of putting into words,so gracefully, thoughts, ideas and emotions. Never, ever stop. You enrich our lives with your gift. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Wow. I wish I had more to say then that... I feel like I missed it the first time around too. Or maybe I just needed a reminder. You are an amazing writer and a really beautiful person.

janell said...

This post hit me with such force a year ago, that I found myself sobbing. I don't know when something touched me that deeply. It had been a horrific summer--more than I ever thought I could bear, and your words helped me to hope again. Thank you for writing from your heart.