Saturday, August 29, 2009

Making It Easy To Smile

A lifetime ago - when I was young and well before the appearance of the first gray hair either on my head or in my beard (in the interest of full disclosure it was prior to the appearance of the beard altogether), I used to carry a lot of music around in my head (sadly, a structure physically large enough to carry a lot of musicians around in). The irony of that I suppose is that other than whistling and the occasional kazoo riff I have no musicality whatsoever.

As a young child my mother insisted on me taking piano lessons for two years - while I attended Immaculate Conception School in Somerville. Each year, all of the piano students participated in some sort of end-of-year recital. As a third grader, I was among the eleven dozen or so who played "Chopsticks" as my contribution to the event. I so butchered it that the following year I was reduced to playing an entirely forgettable piece of music called "Penguins at Play" - the full title of which I later learned was, "Penguins at Play - a piece of music so simple that even the big-headed kid with hooks for hands who f***ed up "Chop Sticks" last year should be able to play it". I nailed it.

While in the three-plus decades since penguins last frolicked 'neath my fingertips the piano and I have maintained both a healthy respect for and a safe working distance from one another, nevertheless when I was in high school and in college I used to spend a considerable amount of my leisure time scribbling down song lyrics - the musical accompaniment to which I carried around in my head. Over the years I have done nothing with them. They are now where they have been for the past two-plus decades: stuffed inside an old Wardlaw-Hartridge School loose-leaf notebook.

This has been a summer that Margaret, Joe, Frank and the rest of the family wish we could forget but know that we shall not be able to ever do so. It has been the summer that has changed everything - the summer in which our family has been forced to do what all families are forced to do from time-to-time, which is say goodbye to one we love.

Suzy B.'s death in early June set the tone for the entire summer. While there have been moments when we have lifted our heads out of the surf and been able to fill our lungs with gulps of sweet, beautiful air (Megan and Adam's wedding / our trip to Wyoming to see Rob), the summer has been an exercise in trying not to drown.

There was palpable concern when several weeks ago Margaret's dad, Joe, announced that because he has not been feeling well himself for a while he was going to see his doctor to get checked out. The concern grew greater when Joe's doctor agreed that something was not quite right and ordered a battery of tests, including a CT scan, to further investigate. The concern was amplified greater still when the CT scan revealed a "mass of indeterminate origin" in his stomach. A biopsy was ordered.

In a family that has been as bitch-slapped by bad news as the wonderful group into which I married lo those many years ago has been, an unrelenting sense of unease settled in during the post-test/pre-result period of two or three days. Margaret feared the worst and, while I did not talk to him about it, I suspect that Joe did as well.

For the first time in longer than I can remember, both were pleasantly surprised by news from a treating physician. Joe's doctor called him after 8:00 last night to tell him that the biopsy had come back clean - negative for cancer. Margaret has had so little about which to smile these past few months I had almost forgotten what her smile looked like. It was great to see it again last night as she hung up the phone after talking to Joe.

And when August started to disappear, we wondered what the future held in store....

While we of course still do not absolutely what the future holds in store, for the first time in quite some time it seems as if might contain more pleasure than pain. That is most certainly a reason to smile.

And if the Daily News calls looking for confirmation, you can tell them that is indeed the dope.


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