68. Poison Ivy

68. Poison Ivy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Poison Ivy

As your faith is strengthened you will find that there is no longer the need to have a sense of control, that things will flow as they will, and that you will flow with them, to your great delight and benefit.

~Emmanuel Teney

Two days before major surgery, I faced an overwhelming to-do list featuring my arch nemesis, poison ivy. The vines had not only overrun my rose garden, they had begun to thread their way through the geraniums and up the side of our house. In long sleeves and gloves, I pulled and clipped every vine and creeping root I could find.

Staring up at the noon sun blazing down on me, I said, “On top of all I need to get done, Lord, why do I have to deal with a bumper crop of poison ivy?” It seemed like a never-ending battle, a symbol of the obligations and responsibilities that were tying me in knots.

As I worked well into the afternoon, I couldn’t help thinking about what lay ahead in the next few days — a hysterectomy, removal of endometriosis, and colon surgery. It was as if the operations were just another chore on an endless slate of things to get done. As I yanked at the tenacious plant, I thought of how the doctors had cautioned me about my recovery. They’d ordered no driving and no work in the office or at home.

I piled the vines by the curb and looked at my car, wondering how I would survive without driving. I couldn’t ask my busy husband, Allen, to chauffeur our eight-year-old daughter Meredith to and from school and dance lessons. That was my job.

When I finally quit the ivy pulling and went inside, my friend Caroline called. “I know how independent you are, but you need to let your friends help you,” she said. “Please — at least until you’re back on your feet.”

“I’ll call if I need anything,” I promised. “But I think everything’s covered.”

I could hear her sigh as I hung up.

The next day was “liquids only” for me, crammed with last-minute meetings and errands. There wasn’t enough time to do everything. That night, after I took Meredith to a sleepover, I lay in bed and thought of my sixteen years of marriage. Careers had been important from the beginning. Then came Meredith and a promotion for me to Vice President at the manufacturing company where I worked. Allen had added being mayor to his busy life as a real estate agent. We seemed so entangled in our responsibilities, our lives so overrun with duties and tasks. I felt as choked as my rose garden.

I must have slept eventually because the blaring alarm clock woke me at 4:30 to get ready for the hour-long trip to Savannah.

“I can drive while you nap,” I said to Allen.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he countered. “I’d like to drive you.”

In no time, the anesthesiologist set up an intravenous line and asked me to turn on my side. “Just a little stick,” he muttered. The next thing I remembered was opening my eyes and feeling Allen’s warm hand holding mine.

“I was worried,” he confided. “It took so long.”

“I’m fine,” I said and tried to turn toward him. I felt the tangle of tubes and wires like a net thrown over me.

“You’re so pale,” he whispered, stroking my face.

“Well,” I said, smiling. “You don’t look so hot yourself.”

He laughed. As I drifted in and out of sleep, I kept telling Allen he didn’t have to stay, that he had too much to do. “You need me,” he said, “and I’m here.”

Something about his simple declaration gave me an incredible sense of peace, like a long-overdue surrender. God, why couldn’t it always be like this? Why did I think I had to take care of everything? Why did it seem I was forever spinning my wheels?

The questions nagged at me, even after I left the hospital. Once home, however, Allen handled the errands and drove Meredith to her activities. Meredith made sure I took my pills. For the first time in my life, I didn’t allow myself to schedule anything. I looked out the window at the poison ivy, half admiring its strength, half admitting I couldn’t get rid of it by myself. It was strange, but depending on family and friends seemed like a kind of truce with my lists and duties.

My life felt different. Better. I found Allen at home more. He insisted on driving me to my doctor appointments. Meredith completed her homework without my nagging. Friends brought casseroles for the freezer.

Caroline, who’d called before surgery, stopped by with a new book and flowers. “Thought you’d enjoy these,” she said. Then, as she turned to leave, she thanked me. “When you let someone help, you allow them to feel needed.”

For six weeks, there was no to-do list at all. I allowed myself to be cared for and, in doing so, I felt a freedom I’d not known for many years — a freedom from the constant turmoil of living up to my expectations of myself. I’d always thought that depending on others would be tantamount to admitting I was inadequate. Yet there was something incredibly generous about asking for help, something almost spiritual.

Though the poison ivy had once again crept up the south wall of my house, my days didn’t seem so entangled and choked. By the time I could drive again, driving wasn’t so important anymore. None of the old tasks that filled my hours seemed so urgent. Even as our lives gathered speed and momentum again, I stepped aside and let others carry some of the weight.

One sunny Saturday afternoon, three months after my surgery, I took Meredith to the mall. When we returned, Allen was in the yard with the wheelbarrow and hedge clippers, a smile widening across his face.

“Daddy,” yelled Meredith, “what’re you doing?”

He came over to us, wiping the sweat from his brow. “Just working on your mom’s poison ivy.” He laughed, slipped an arm around my waist and kissed the top of my head.

“Thank you, Allen,” I said, stunned by his actions, hoping he realized how much I needed him.

In retrospect, I’d allowed responsibilities and obligations to strangle the life out of my relationships. Accepting help turned out to be the cure. The simplest lessons, I decided, are sometime the hardest to learn.

~Debra Ayers Brown

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