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Problems
The Fruitcake
The Fruitcake
The Fruitcake
The Plate

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The "Wu Word" Blog

Problems

The knock was so soft that I was convinced it was all in my imagination.  Then, my doorbell chimed.

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon.  I was not expecting anyone.  I learned long ago when I moved out and lived alone not to open my door unless I was expecting someone.  Curiosity got the better and best of me.  I crept to the door and asked: “Who’s there?”
To my surprise, the voice behind the door was a woman who was a friend of a neighbor.  I had only mumbled niceties of “Hi” and “How are you?” to this woman, but never even had a conversation with her.  What could she be doing at my door?  I tentatively opened the door wider and let her in. 

With wide and eager brown eyes and iron straight brown hair, she shared with me that she had lost her job and was looking for work—any kind of work.  She also shared with me that it was only a matter of time that she would be homeless and have to find another place to crash at.   I could feel and read the desperation in her eyes when she said: “These are hard times.  And, everything is so expensive.  I will do anything I can for work and to make ends meet, as long as it is honest to good work.” 

There are very few times in my life that I was left speechless.  This was one of them.  I weakly suggested work ideas and took her number, promising that I would call her if I could think of anything.  I felt helpless when she turned her back to me with her chin held high, determined that she was going to figure out something, or, really, anything to make ends meet. 

This uninvited visit from this woman was a wake-up call after these past few stressful months I had with household issues, specifically water problems. The first water incident happened in February when the faucet broke and all the water collected and finally burst releasing a miniature flood from my kitchen cabinet with the absolute inability to stop the water and the requirement for two maintenance men to come and try to stop my wooden kitchen floors from splitting from the water damage.  The second water incident was from faulty bathtub pipes and drainage that caused water to drip and dribble from the ceiling alongside the wall that was right above an electrical outlet from the unit above mine. 

Water had always been a theme in my life.  When I was stressed, overwhelmed, anxious, or angry, I wiggled my body into my swim suit, snapped a glossy swim cap on my head,  slapped goggles on my face, and plunged into the water—a very special world that I could disappear to for a little while.  It was when I was underwater that I was literally bathed in tranquility and somehow managed to come up with my greatest solutions to my problems.  Water had also always done great damage and caused even greater nerves in me.  I do not do well with household issues.  Probably because I massively suck at them.  It does not help that I just panic as my first response to any household problems.  In both water incidents, the problems were eventually fixed, but left me upset and complaining that the paint color to the ceiling did not match with the original paint color.  As a friend said to me when I griped about the mismatched paint colors, “Mary, mismatched paint colors are first world problems.  Be happy you have a roof over your head.” 

This unexpected visit from this woman and my friend’s echoing words of ‘first world problems’ was an awakening.  While I was complaining about mismatched paint, this woman was fighting to find work and a roof over her head.  It made me think about our worlds, our lives, and our problems.   I have to admit that sometimes I hear people’s problems about what I see as rather superficial matters what I think mean absolutely nothing, scoffing in my head ‘wow, that’s this person’s problem??  I would want that problem!”  Meanwhile, that problem means everything and as the worst problem ever to the other person who is complaining about it.  We get so wrapped up in our worlds, our lives, and our problems that we forget that there is ALWAYS someone who has it worst.  You may think you have all or the worst problems, but there may be someone else out there who would do anything to have your problems rather than their own problems.  There will always be someone else hemming and hawing about their problems that are only first world problems, rather than third world problems.   

I write about our world filled with problems that we may see as the worst, but there may be someone who actually wants your problems over their problems.   Do you ever get so wrapped up in your world of woes and problems that you end up thinking that you have the worst of problems?  Do you ever think that ‘it could be better’ or ‘it could be worse’?  Have you ever stopped and thought ‘wow, I’m so glad that I do not have that person’s problems’ or ‘man, they think they have it bad??  If only they knew what I was going through!”  Can you ever step out from your world of problems and see other’s problems?  What are your latest problems? 
 
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,
Mary

 

The Fruitcake

I was having a bad day.  Dare I say a *hitty day.  It was one of those days where EVERYTHING was going wrong from start to finish and everything in between was all messed up.  To top it off, it was messing me up and messing my mind up even more of coming off as grumpy and grouchy.  Totally not me.  I was counting down until the day was over with so I could plunge into the pool to wash away my stresses.  I was at my breaking point.    
 
I had one more call to make to a patient.
 
Technically, I did not have to make this call, but I had roughly fifteen minutes to spare until clocking out.  I knew that it would be in the greater good and best interest to call this patient so she could have a smooth first appointment.   I am very sensitive to people’s voices and to the shapes and sounds of their words when they speak.  My hearing and listening are now even more heightened and sharpened with being mainly on the phone now at work.   So, I was pleasantly surprised when the voice on the other end was a sweet southern drawl. 
 
The patient on the other line was in her late 80’s, teetering on 90.  She had a warm southern drawl and a sweet laugh that made me feel like I was transported to somewhere in the south of the U.S.A.  The grouchy and grumpy in me started to shed, and the corners of my mouth were lifting into a smile. 
 
Somehow, we got on the topic of food.  And, you know, there is nothing that makes me happier or lights me up than food.  She shared with me that she had a small fruitcake business that she started once her husband died a few years ago.  She said that baking and this business kept her active and young.  I thought to myself and wrinkled my nose in curiosity: “Fruitcake?”  I think I had eaten a fruitcake only once in my life.  I certainly had baked and experimented with many sweet treats in my lifetime, but fruitcake was NOT one of them.   I was doubtful. 
 
In her sweet southern drawl, she said, “I want to send you a fruitcake.  For all the kindness you brought to me today.  You let me know what you think of it.” 
 
I could not believe that this stranger that I was talking on the phone was offering such kindness and generosity to me.  If only this woman knew that SHE had put a stop sign on my bad day and completely turned it around with her sweetness for even offering to send me one of her fruitcakes.  Yet, there she was on the phone saying I had made the difference and boosted up her and her day.  Since this woman had turned my flopped day into a flip good day, I thought I had nothing to lose by trying her fruitcake that clearly brought her great joy. 

The Fruitcake


 
 I did not believe that she would do it.  Most people are dandruff (aka: flaky).   Most people are NATO: NO ACTION, TALK ONLY.  I was absolutely shocked when I received her cling-wrapped bourbon-drenched fruitcake embedded with tart jewels of nuts and dried fruit.  When I unwrapped the package, the intoxicating scent of bourbon (and, mind you, I know just about NOTHING about alcohol—especially what I see as hardcore liquor as bourbon), molasses, and spices nearly knocked me over.  One bite and that was it.  Warmth coated my throat and filled my belly.  I would never see fruitcake the same again.  I was in heaven.
 
I called up the patient to thank her for her absolutely divine fruitcake.  Coincidentally (but you know I do not believe in coincidences), we ended up meeting less than a week later.  I ended up giving her one of my cakes I had baked that week along with the biggest hug, because, you must know that the core of this story is not about the fruitcake.  It is about the great and bewildering power we have to make or break someone’s day and the days that add up in our lives.  We possess the absolute power to cause people to cry, laugh, and smile or annoy and even anger from always the little things we do or do not do or the things we say or do not say that can amount to the most.  This woman said I made the difference.  I say she made the difference.  We both made the difference in the best of ways with a small fruitcake as the catalyst of kindness.   

The Fruitcake


 
We all have good days and bad days.  What makes a bad day a bad day?  What makes a good day a good day?  Who lifted or still lifts you up on your worst of days?   Who brought down your good day, as there are people who just love to rain on parades and as there are just miserable people who are only happy when others are miserable?  Who had put a stop sign from your seemingly bad day from getting worse and even turning it to a good day? What small act of kindness have you done or can you do to bring up someone and their day, or vice versa?  What is your ‘fruitcake’ as the catalyst for kindness? 
 
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,
Mary ;-)

 

The Plate

It is often hard for me to believe that I have been working at the same organization for lucky 13 years and counting.  Sometimes it seems longer.  Sometimes it seems shorter. Sometimes, the days meld into one another and I am counting down until Friday and wishing my days away and then *poof* my days are gone—and they keep on going and then are gone.  Always, without a doubt, time baffles me as the ultimate enigma of long stretches and short stretches and how so much changes and yet nothing really changes at all.    The majority of my time was working in a chemotherapy unit where I saw patients and their loved ones at their worst and also at their best and in a time warp of life and death of trying to savor everything in between.  Many people would say: “I do not know how you do your job.  I could not do your job.  It must be so sad.”    But, I loved it.  Yes, I love it. 
 
I love the fierce and fire and the strength and strong that all revolve around ‘the fight for the gift of life’ and then the final acceptance and peace when the fire has been extinguished into the unknown that we can never understand, but try to accept and surrender peacefully to for when it is time to go then it is time to go. 
 
Making the switch to lessen in-person contact with patients was hard for me, but I was determined to learn about the bad and the ugly of health insurances and finances to educate and empower patients to navigate their own health insurances to make their very own informed and personal healthcare decisions.   It was a pain in the ass and there was days I felt like I would never get it and never be in a position to help patients out, but I kept reminding myself of two things ‘this was for a greater good’ and ‘if I am all confused with our messed up healthcare system, then can you imagine how someone so sick feels trying to navigate all this crap’?  So, I kept on.  I eventually ended up in a role where I still have in-person contact, but it is at the VERY beginning of their health journey.  I see significantly less patients than when I worked in chemotherapy, but I’ve already experienced patients at their worst with breaking down crying in front of me and then cleaning themselves up as if nothing happened as they finish their appointment with me and then brace themselves for their very first appointment.   The majority of the time, I am on the phone with patients.  Somewhat sad to say, I’ve now become so accustomed to talking more so with patients on the phone than in-person that I am brought back in time to my chemotherapy working days only when an established patient comes to me.  And, this is rare, few, and far in between.
 
Well, that’s exactly what happened a couple weeks ago.  An established Radiation Oncology patient who had undergone at least two or more treatments came into my office with her therapy dog and her husband.  She was probably only a couple years older than me.  Her face was gaunt.  Her eyes were wide.  I could immediately tell that her coming to me had a deeper and underlying message than the message she was about to share with me.  She shared with me that her radiation treatment was aggressive and atypical, and so it was denied by her health insurance and that it was in the appeals process.    She began to shoot off a string of questions to me:  “So what happens now?  What if the appeal does not go through?  What happens with my current radiation treatment?  Will I have to self-pay?  How much will it cost?”
 
I paused.  “I do not know the answer to your questions.  I do not know what is going to happen.  No one really ever knows or can predict the future or what is going to happen.  I just know that it is in appeals and it is being worked on and we will go from there.”
 
She would not accept what I was telling her.  I do not know what took over me next, but I said this: “It is easy for me to say to you to trust the process, and it is so very hard to do.  I just know that you and we all have a plate.  Some days more than others, it seems like the plate is overflowing and spilling over the edges.  Most days, we wish for dull, boring, scarce, and sparse, but that’s not how life works.  There is so much already on your plate that you have to take small bites and take it little by little as it comes and not overload it with even more.  Do not add or overload your plate with more than you can pick and chew from and pick up and handle.  Nothing more and nothing less.  One day at a time.  One step at a time.  One thing at a time.”
 
I did not even know where these words that came out from my mouth actually came from.  I think I looked as surprised and speechless as her.   Both of us did not even know what to say, so we said little and our actions spoke with a small nod of her determined chin and a reluctant acceptance that she would have to wait to see what happens.  The waiting, the not knowing, the unknown, the out of her and all of our control wraps in a tight and suffocating ball of fear.   We are left with holding on as hard as can to hope, faith, and a trust in a process that has no shortcuts and that we endure and go through with intentions to come out better and stronger.  We all have a plate that, I believe, gets bigger and we make more complicated as we age with our thoughts, worries, anxieties, responsibilities, and tendencies.  We overload and bite off more than we can chew.   So, why do we do this?  Why can’t we trust the process?  Why does our mind immediately spiral out of control to the worst case scenario?
 
Each of us has our own plates.   Some even have a whole set of China. I believe that most of our plates are overflowing and spilling off the edges.  Some of us continue to bite off more than we can possibly chew.  Some of us actually put even more on our plates by making it more complicated than it needs to be.  Is your plate always overflowing?  How big is your plate?  Do our plates get bigger as we get older, because of more responsibility and because we become more aware of what is required of us and the risks involved?  What does your plate look like now?  Is it cracked and beyond repair?  Is it pretty and flowery with scalloped edges and gold trim?  Is there a way to cut back on all that is on our plates?  How is your plate looking like now and did you create this plate and all on it or did it just heap on to you and keep on heaping until you wondered whose plate it really belonged to? 
 
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-)
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