That said, the past three days have been so full. Some of the time has been full of activity. That time which isn't has been bursting with a mixture of emotions. And there's so much I want to put down in words, partly because I want to share with others my thoughts, feelings, impressions, etc., and perhaps even moreso because writing it down helps me sort through things. I'll start with today, because it was, in many respects, the least "busy" of the three days. (Besides, when I finish writing about today, I may be too sleepy to continue!) I will try, contrary to form, to be succinct. [Update: I failed to be succinct. Sorry.]
Today was about Ilana and books, with the two combining to form a nexus between the principal activities of the day.
I got up this morning to go see the Head of the Charles. (Six years in Boston and I had never been!) I went because I wanted to see Ilana race, and I wanted to cheer for her and support her, and I wanted her to feel that support. As I told briganski as we raced towards the Charles River, hoping not to miss her boat, "I really like her, and I don't want to blow it by not being there for her."
She had called me the night before. I told her I was coming to the Head of the Charles. She made sure I knew about the corrected race time, reminded me her team's name, described the boat for me, and told me to look for her afterwards. "If you can't find us, call me; I'll have my cell phone on me." I think it's safe to assume she wanted to see me again.
Her race, the women's eight, started officially at 11:41 a.m. Her boat was number 34. We were running late. I pulled into Harvard Stadium and parked illegally in a permit-only spot. We jogged from the stadium to the Lars Anderson Bridge (JFK). Her boat emerged from under the Weeks Footbridge only a couple of minutes later. We had just made it! The PA system blared, "And now we see number thirty-four, the Gentle Giants, in their first Head of the Charles race. They're doing quite well for first-timers, as they've just passed number thirty-three." As the shell came withing easy hearing range, I let out a couple of well-supported "Go Giants!" That's all I would risk, but that's all that was needed. I got a good look at Ilana as she set the pace in the stroke position, and she later acknowledged that she did hear the cheers.
briganski and I ran back to my truck and raced down Storrow Drive, hoping to catch her at the finish line. A State Trooper kindly allowed us to park illegally so we could see Ilana finish. Alas, we just missed her! But after they'd pulled out of the water and had a little team meeting, I called out, "Great race, Giants!" Ilana turned around and that great smile of hers lit up the otherwise cold, gray day. She came over to us and we hugged and she told us she was so thrilled that we were able to come down to watch her. We agreed to meet up again, after she peed and after we found legal parking. We spent the next 4 hours tagging along with her, walking up and down the river, exploring a few of the tents along the course, greeting her friends and fans.... At times we felt like a third wheel, but I knew that this was a busy, overwhelming day for her, and I neither expected nor demanded that she pay me more attention. I was content merely to be present in the moment.
briganski and I left a little around 4 p.m. and were pleased to find that I had not received a ticket, since our meter had run out over an hour before. We proceeded to our book club meeting at Chromatopia. treacle_well and briganski (mostly the former, I've been informed) did a splendid job of hosting our little gathering. I'm afraid that, since I had eaten or drunk nothing in the previous 6 hours, and breakfast being nothing more than an Atkins Advantage Bar, I was famished and consumed more than my fair portion of snacks and drink. (Sorry, treacle_well!) The discussion was fun but seemed a bit limited. We mostly discussed the similarities/differences between the three translations we had (Graves, Adlington, and Walsh). For instance, Adlington (written in the Elizabethan era) completely left out the anal sex reference. Oh, yes, we talked about all the sex in Golden Ass as well. We also talked about the negative portrayal of women specifically and people in general, about the attitudes towards four religions (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Christian) evident in the book, and about certain plot devices and storytelling construction. We wandered off to non-Apuleian topics much sooner than I expected, though.
"What was that up at the top about a nexus?" you ask. :) My day began with reading a book about Ilana!
Six years ago, in September of 1998, Ilana was involved in a near-fatal car accident while travelling through Australia. The doctors claim it was a miracle she survived the accident, a miracle she survived the helicopter ride to the airport in Brisbane, a miracle she survived the first 48-72 hours in the hospital, and yet another miracle she survived the new experimental surgery.
The driver of her car was driving erratically. When a bird flew across the road, she swerved to avoid it and went up on the shoulder of the road. She overcorrected and cut across both lanes of traffic. A van coming the other way broadsided them and sent them over an embankment. Fortunately, the driver behind Ilana's car was a nurse on the way home from work and was able to identify who needed the most attention and kept Ilana alive until the paramedics arrived. The driver of the van broke an ankle, but neither she nor the baby received anything more than bruises. The driver of Ilana's car walked away with minor scratches and bruises. Both her other friends had to be hospitalized with various injuries, but none were life-threatening. This was not the case with Ilana. She had, to quote the book:
The doctors most immediate concern was the swelling caused by the closed head injury and the fistula; this required a shunt inserted into her cranium to relieve pressure. Ilana made a remarkable -- and remarkably quick, slightly over a month, despite two brain surgeries -- recovery. The optic nerve was too damaged by the swelling caused by the fistula, so she lost all vision in her left eye, and she can no longer SCUBA dive due to an inability to relieve pressure from her left inner ear, but she has no lingering problems, including no loss of memory (other than no recollection of the accident or events immediately following) or change in personality or motor functions. (Her chances of survival when she arrived at the hospital were 30% that she wouldn't make it, 30% that she'd survive with severe brain damage, and 30% that she'd survive with some brain damage, including changes in personality, impaired motor skills, or loss of memory; Ilana defied the odds and made that 10%!)
- a closed head injury
- two skull fractures
- a fistula behind her left eye (a tear in an artery wall that was allowing blood to pulse into a vein and create enormous pressure in her head, specifically on the optic nerve behind her left eye)
- a severe dissection of her left carotid artery (separation of the interior lining from the wall of the artery)
- a mild dissection of the right carotid artery
- one punctured lung, partially collapsed, leaking air
- one damaged lung, partially filled with blood
- a severely broken left arm (monteggia fracture/dislocation)
- severe bruising on her thighs and waist
- small laceration on her left shin.
The book, entitled Hope Grew Round Me and written by her mother, Barb Greenberg, relates the events surrounding the accident and the recovery, beginning with the phone call from Australia at 3 a.m., when a strange voice informed Ilana's parents that they'd better get to Brisbane immediately, for "your daughter is very sick" and might not make it through the night. It details the emotional tolls involved in facing such an ordeal. It paints a picture of Ilana as a fighter, an adventurous spirit, and a stubborn little spitfire who fights for what she wants, qualities I already could see in her from the little time we've spent together.
And I can't help thinking that the timing is so uncanny. There must be a reason that my path crossed Ilana's, putting me in contact with this book, this source of strength and inspiration, just as I embark on my own personal sea of uncertainty -- uncertainty regarding my mother's condition, the progression of my career, the status of several friendships, and the integrity of personal axioms. Despite my increasing fondness for Ilana, I doubt whether she is meant to be anything more than a friend, but rather wonder if the Lord sent her into my life so that I could learn from her example -- learn how to live life more completely, more freely and lovingly, and learn how to deal with adversity.
When the time is right, the Lord always opens doors for me that I didn't even know existed. They may not be the doors I want open, but He knows best what I need. Perhaps the door is one that leads me to a tremendous opportunity in my singing career at a time when I'm so depressed about my prospects that I'm ready to give it all up. Or maybe it is one that leads to Ilana and all she has to teach me at a time when I express disillusionments over my lifestyle and am faced with a family crisis. Or maybe the door leads to sudden and unexpected financial windfall when I most need "just a little bit extra" to be able to fly overseas to a funeral or a big audition.
Anyhow, I am having difficulty putting the book down. It's a gripping account. Have you ever read anything so powerful, so moving, that it's as if the words on the page punched you hard in the gut and threw you against the wall? That very thing happens on page 26. That is one of two places so far (a mere 85 pages into the book) where the experience has overwhelmed my already taxed emotions and has drawn out tears.
Even if Ilana never wants to see me again, I will be thankful that I met her, that we shared a beautiful moment last weekend, and that she made her story available to me to draw strength and inspiration from.