Anyone who has watched a sporting event where the sidelines of the competition are crowded with spectators, has no doubt been witness to, at one time or another, what could fairly be termed collateral damage.
I’m talking about the tackle in a football game that transgresses the white sidelines and hurtles into several unsuspecting cheerleaders. Or the basketball player whose post-lay-up trajectory slams him into a cameraman poised for a shot.
We’ve all seen it happen. And we’ve all felt quite helpless witnessing it. Because the truth is this: there’s not much one can do except sympathize. Before any hero has a chance to intervene . . . the unfortunate deed is done.
This was certainly true of the collateral damage caused by my heart attack. For while I was writhing in pain, uncertain of my future on this earth, others were being affected simultaneously. Maybe they weren’t in the throes of death, but they were significantly affected nonetheless.
In most lives I’m sure there is at least one BEFORE and AFTER experience.
Sometimes it represents a change brought about by a moment of high elation. But more often than not it is a life change far from our choosing, one which we would pay almost anything to avoid, one which on the surface (and usually much deeper) spells disaster and heartache.
Before my heart attack; after my heart attack.
But for my family it was: before my husband’s heart attack; after my husband’s heart attack. Before my father’s heart attack; after my father’s heart attack. Before my brother’s heart attack; after my brother’s heart attack. Before my nephew’s heart attack. After my nephew’s heart attack. Before my cousin’s heart attack. After my cousin’s heart attack.
And I could go on. Numberless friends. Former students. Beloved neighbors.
My granddaughter is too young to understand, but my grandson may remember his own unique version of Before and After. He asks me each time I see him, “How’s your heart feeling, today, Papa?”
My youngest daughter journals a great deal. The other night she read to me (amidst tears) the 20 handwritten pages of her journal which concern Before and After. I was moved to tears myself.
When you take your eyes off your own self, and you gaze at the loved ones surrounding your hospital bed, you are staring into the beloved faces of those for whom collateral damage is not just a remote concept. These are the people who, although wounded and scarred themselves by what has happened to you, have nonetheless come to offer even more of themselves if need be.
The friend who handed my wife $500 on my first day at the hospital, or the neighbor who hand washed our dishes while we were away, walked our dog, and left us $150 in cash. The families who took the time to make it possible for us to eat for at least two weeks without going to the store and preparing our own food. The next door neighbor who repaired our leaking toilet when I was too weak to even get up off the couch. The two sisters who sent us a check for $1,000. The good friend who repaired our ailing wooden fence.
Prayers have been prayed in my presence and as far away as Montana. Gift cards have been sent to us by friends and family. Get Well Cards from those who love us. Emails, and Facebook remarks without number. Calls from old friends. One sweet friend brought a bag of books for me to read. My work sent a beautiful plant arrangement. And there have been special greetings from heart attack survivors welcoming me into “The Club.”
Even my dog, Lex, knew something was up once I returned home. And he has been gentle with me, and considerate of my new daytime home on the couch. In fact, he has rather enjoyed his new napping partner, snoozing near his bed in the den.
My youngest daughter has faithfully continued to sacrifice and help care for me, and my eldest and her husband have pitched in whenever possible, all-the-while juggling the affairs of two small children.
Above any other – my wife of 40 years has cleaned for me, cared for me, administered meds for me, provided food for me, been my chauffeur, and hovered over me like a mother hen. I can hardly begin to tell you of all her sacrifice in what ostensibly is my drama, not hers.
She continually demonstrates what true love is all about. But I cannot begin to imagine her pain in all this, often falling to sleep at night with tears as she ponders what “might have been.”
“No man is and island . . . .”
The unwanted disturbance in the middle of the pool of my life in the wee hours of October 4, 2016 sent ripples all the way out to the shore; the splash made waves that rocked those closest, but also those farthest away. Because that is how it is in this life. Our ponds may seem small to us, but their waters mysteriously are able to touch every ocean on this orb.
When a large sporting event has concluded, a winning and a losing team has been announced, spectators have gone home, and players have made their way to the locker room, the highlights of the game become a memory. Those memories usually center on the spectacular plays of the night and the unforgettable outcome of the contest.
But for those caught up in the drama of an accident on the sidelines . . . a completely different memory remains. And it is indelible. It is an ink stain that is permanent. Even if the players themselves should forget that it happened (as inconceivable as that might be),
the faithful fans along the sidelines . . . never will.