Letters to Luthien

Letters to My Future Bride

A Heartbeat Away

heartbeat

I have seen flowers come in stony places
And kind things done by men with ugly faces
And the gold cup won by the worst horse at the races,
So I trust too.

– John Masefield

Dear Darling,

I made it a week without writing, or needing you, or even, almost, without thinking about you. And then I reach another week’s end. Last night and the night before were two of the most trying nights of my career. I watched the tears of a family gathered around one man’s bed as they were told his life was waning. I saw the slow, tearful defeat welling up in the eyes of another man, speechless and tired of fighting. This is why I do what I do. This is who I am. And yet, I think how nice it would be just to sit on the couch after a long day and talk. To tell my thoughts and hear yours; the simple pleasure of knowing you’re only a heartbeat away. I think I would find it exceedingly precious to hold your hand and feel your pulse, or to put my stethoscope against your chest and listen to your actual heart.

I’m on about hearts tonight because I held someone else’s in my hands last night — a girl not much younger than I, for whom death was knocking. I confess, I don’t wish death to come for anyone, but come he must, and when he does, I want to be there. So through her chest, her heart having stopped, I became her heart. Her frame was small, the effort was minimal. With a small army crowding into a smaller room, we brought her back. Such order and anarchy striving together after one imperiled soul.

A short eternity later, the ordeal ended. The exchanges of “good job” were made. And not long after, we turn control over to the next watch, and we each of us get into our cars and go home. They to friends, family, love. Doubtless to share their modest but poignant roles in the saving of a life, the restarting of a heart. I come home in silence and to silence, an uncaring house occupied in its own musings.

Thousands of shifters are coming home from their watches at the same time as I, fading to silence and quiet. Police. Medics. Firefighters. Nurses. Soldiers. They pour out themselves for the simple and noble task of preserving the lives of their neighbors. To take a bullet, tread the flame or thread the needle. And for whom? Someone’s mother or grandmother; a wife, an uncle, a husband. Behind every hospital door or curtain, some-one’s world may hang in peril of crumbling. And to what thanks do these simple warriors return? To an applauding public, a grateful city, a generous paycheck? Folly. Money brings not life, nor preserves it. No-one courts their favor as they would businessmen or politicians, because their giving is a foregone conclusion. The daily victories won or lost on ten thousand bedside battlefronts between sun’s rising and setting are too numerous to applaud each as they deserve. Affliction and illness are tireless foes, and although we cannot unburden ourselves from the weight of the world in a single night, we return to the battle the very next night.

The ringing of summons, the fittings and fixtures of each room, the coughs and calls, the needs and protestations, all fade into a deafening silence when I go home, as though it never were.

“I helped restart a heart last night,” I might say to one friend or another. “That’s nice.” “You’re not a marine!” someone else retorted as I related some of these thoughts once before. I changed the subject. Not everyone’s mettle is cut for the thickest of the fighting. And of course, some would rather turn a blind eye to it entirely, embracing denial until their own lifestyles catch up with them. Truth and reality make poor drinking buddies, and people are never grateful for the rope-holders, until they’re off a cliff’s edge.

The job is fulfilling. There’s no money as could pay for what any of us do. And from patients themselves, “thank-you” is heard just often enough to be routine and therefore of diminished significance, much as you would think the barista who hands you the coffee you ordered. Only those that do it know what it’s really worth.

Before leaving, I went and found the nurse alongside whom we’d fought to restart the girl’s heart. She’s my age (married of course) but becoming a good friend. We work as a team, and working as a team to survive a crisis creates a unique bond. She was near tears as I hugged her. She told me she couldn’t have done it without me. (Yes, she could have.)

You see then why I privately hold some complaints of “bad days” contemptuously. I have seen survivors of attack, abuse and trauma. Horrific crashes, mountaintop plunges, gaping wounds; scars of the body and mind, the slow decay of time. We brush the ash and darkness off those who survive, and honor the ones who don’t. You mean to tell me that car parts, splinters, demanding clients, bent nails or challenging coworkers compare?

And Darling, when I walk through the door to eat, wash and surrender to the silent (and occasionally elusive) indifference of sleep, I don’t only wish I could unload these thoughts on you and demand of your sympathy and affection in return. I want also to hold you and cushion the tears wrung from you by a difficult day, and share a hug of greater duration and license than a chaste hug among friends and co-laborers. I want to fold you into the richness of the same compassion that drives me at work, and share this love, this heart without caution or reserve.

Time grows short before studies resume. For the second week in a row, none of the dozen invites I sent out to join me for a movie were answered or accepted, so I spent an evening in a restaurant with a Dickens novel. I went for a walk under the bright glow of a full August moon, one of the year’s brightest they say. Mists are rising from the ground as I walk and pray. Someone drives past and a woman shouts out the window something to the effect of “see you later, baby!” Yes my lady, if you continue your habit of weekly inebriation and driving, I expect you will.

My mother herself had surgery this past week. She seems to be recovering.

And I, at last, seem to have depleted either the words to write, or the will to write them. I hope your week has been of equal significance but less challenge, and you know already that my prayers accompany you on whatever difficulties you face. Even a bent fingernail.

Yours ever,
Beren

August 10, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time is a Fire

Darling,

It’s been said that time is the fire in which we burn.

But increasingly, it’s a wearisome fire, and with no warmth to those who walk alone.

Today was just a bad day, and I don’t even know why. How many more ways can I describe to you this restless, wandering, pent-up feeling that gnaws within day after day? I’ve reached that point of the year where I should study the books and would rather burn them instead.

I thought some of that restlessness would drain from me with the blood I donated today, but it didn’t. They tell me today’s made one gallon that I’ve given over the last year or two. The woman was newer at her job, I think, because it hurt more than it ever has. I pictured myself on a beach, or in your arms to keep from showing the pain…I didn’t want to make her feel bad.

I took myself to a movie tonight too, thinking it would help me escape. Instead, vicariously living a brief romance through the character’s relationship, that relationship was ripped apart in death, and it left me rather out of sorts. They weren’t the people I would have chosen to sit with, but God provided some companions, an officer I’ve worked with and his two sons. They both seem to look up to me.

I need more than movies to make passable the fires of time. I’m burning my time now to write to you, but there’s really no one else in whom I can confide. Increasingly I write out a thought or an opinion to share, and then erase it because I quite firmly remind myself no one cares. I invited anyone who could read to join me in donating blood and no one did. I posed a provocative discussion question and no one replied. (But post a picture of an orphaned kitten being adopted out…!)

Okay, so people on the internet are shallow or busy or both. What did I expect? What do I want out of them? What do I want out of life? I suppose in the end, there’s a small part of me that’s frustrated because they aren’t you. Mind you, I care about them and their troubles without it being returned, so I still wish they would grow to be more attentive to their world. So what do I want? Someone to care. Someone to ask me what I want, and care about the answer. Someone to say “You know what YOU need…” and help me figure out the answer when need be. To remind me what I’m doing, what I’ve done, who I am, matters, still matters, is appreciated.

I believe I’ve told you before, the downside of becoming unflappable is that the world becomes mundane. Nothing seems new anymore, and while I’m not much to seek a thrill for its own sake, it’s enough to force me to seek out new experiences.

Part of my identity, my dear, is to be a safety net. I’m part of the network of people that act as a barrier between them and disaster. What does a safety net do? It stands there, stretched taut and under great strain, always ready to catch the clowns and sequined fools who overcharge people for their silly antics and tricks. You spend a lifetime under pressure, under obligation, knowing that when the moment comes you have to perform and if there’s one weak link at one moment in time, the whole thing was for naught. I’m doing that trackside tomorrow. Suited people who have too much money and drink too much alcohol. And as part of the safety net, it’s my job to fight anything from a skinned knee up to and including the Grim Reaper. And what’s more, we lurk unseen. We live under that constant pressure, behind the scenes, forgotten and unappreciated but enabling people to risk their lives because they know someone will be along to save them. They forget people train and learn and study. That we become familiar with Death and study his ways so we can counter them.

Sometimes it’s quite a strain. Maybe it’s a self-imposed strain, but someone has to do it.

It’s funny. We worry about the behavior of our warriors and soldiers, the aggression of our officers and the extremes of our firefighters and emergency medical workers. But truly, that’s who we need them to be. Their behaviors are expected byproducts of who we ask them to become on our behalf…and then we forget about them. We move our cars out of their way and our minds offer just the tiniest self-congratulation that we expedited the process. If I had a dime for every time someone’s told me they could never do that…

I’m sure I sound bitter. And self-congratulatory in my own way. I don’t know what I need anymore. If you ran down the list, I’m far more blessed than I deserve and all my basic needs are met. I just can’t fight the feeling, even as final exams loom ahead of me that I should be doing more, that I’m missing something, that there’s a calling just out of reach. I’m great about work and school and exercise, packing them into a day. I’m good at speed. I’m not so great on the slowdown.

Ah Darling. For all I know, this is one of the many days to come where “yeah, well, you know I have problems too!” will be the retort you have to letters like these. I’d grow weary of them too. And I hope you have someone in your life to call and announce you’ve had a bad day so they can listen. I sure would. And tonight, and on any of nights like these…I just need that from you.

Will you pray for me tonight, my dear? Please.

Your lonely knight,
Beren

May 3, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness, Nights Like These | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment