But...I Didn't Order this Life - Part II
What happened in Part I
Whether or not we have a chronic disease, we all do what we have to do to get through each day, and sometimes that means simply putting one foot in front of the other. But if we recognize what we're up against, we can face our obstacles head on, and go beyond just scraping by. And from there, we can heal and grow. This is the story of a stressed out mom who learns an important life lesson - a universal truth - in the least likely of places, from the least likely people.
*The names of some people and places have been changed.
...My daughter, Paige, was 17-years old, rebellious and distant. She was struggling in school, academically and socially but was determined to go to the Goth Convention in New York City. For the sake of my daughter's safety - and my sanity, Paige, my friend Kelly, and I flew a thousand miles New York to the weekend convention...Everything seemed to be going well until my automatic mom clock woke me at 2:03am Saturday morning. Paige was not there... I became wild with worry and anxiety held me in its grip. I lay in the dark, clinging desperately to my prayers for Paige's safe and soon return, yet told myself that if she didn't walk through that door within the next five minutes I'd lose my mind.
"I'm home, mom." At 2:08am Paige gently tapped me on the shoulder.
I squeezed her hand, kissed it, put it to my cheek, and held it there.
"Did you have a good time?"
"Yeah, I did."
"Good. Well, good night, honey. Now get some sleep."
She gave me a hug and a pat. "You too, mom."
I began to breathe again. "Thank you, God."
I breathed again. "I love you, Paige."
"I love you too, mom."
It was Saturday afternoon and I was standing outside the entrance of the hotel preparing to phone home. Just a few feet from me were two young men from the convention, one with tattoos covering his shaved head. The design was a stunning, intricate series of fine flowing lines and swirls in deep blue. We chatted a bit about the amazing artwork as they began preparing to take some photos. These guys seemed nice enough, reserved and polite. All was well.
A moment later I was startled by squeals coming from two pretty teenage girls inside a Mercedes Benz slowly passing by; they were pointing and laughing at the two young men, yelling, "@#$%&*# freaks!" They laughed again and the car sped off. The men briefly looked up and without a word went back to work. My heart ached, and at that moment it dawned on me that in spite of all the confusion and concern over my daughter I knew one thing for sure - she would never be like those girls - and of that I was very proud.
On the last day of our time in Manhattan, after a weekend of rich meals, late nights (and a few glasses of wine for Kelly and me), Paige, who seemed none-the-worse for wear and genuinely happy to be with us, invited us to join her for breakfast at a restaurant she'd discovered.
We walked into the Midtown Diner around 12:15pm. The place was filled with the buzz of lively conversations, the clinking of dishes, the rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee, and the rush of servers taking orders and serving meals. We were seated at the last available table, a booth near the door. Our server appeared. The label pinned to her uniform told us her name was Victoria. She looked to be about 30-something, with long, blond hair pulled back in a tight, high pony tail, more than enough make-up, and long artificial nails painted bright red. In a thick New Jersey accent she asked, "Can I start you ladies with coffee?"
That was a definite yes. She poured.
"So, are you ready to order?"
Kelly and Paige placed their orders.
I said, "I'll have the Western omelet, whole wheat toast and hash browns."
As she wrote, she said, "That'll be the Western omelet, whole wheat toast, and fries."
"No, I'd like the hash browns."
"French fries come with that."
"It says here that I have my choice between hash browns and American fries, and I'd like the hash browns - please."
"Well, its after noon, and we don't serve hash browns or American fries after noon."
Victoria looked up from her order pad, straight at me and said, "Honey, here at the Midtown Diner, you don't get what you order. You get what we give you."
"Uh...okay, then, fries will be fine."
Do you ever feel like you just didn't get the life you ordered? You probably had plans, maybe big ones - maybe not - but most likely they were plans to live comfortably; physically, socially, spiritually, financially. But no matter what your plans were, it's more than likely that the list for the life you ordered did not include anything even close to living with chronic illness, debilitating paralysis, the tragic loss of - or the failure to reach - a child, constant pain, fatigue, extreme shortness of breath, the need for a host of daily medications, or oxygen - either for yourself or a loved one.
Real life is not easy. In fact, it can be downright brutal. And often it's not at all fair. And when something difficult, even unbearable, comes along, as much as we wish we could, we can't just say, "That's not what I ordered. Take it back." All we can hope for is to live with grace and dignity, learn something positive from our hardships, and become a better person in the process.
For me, in the years since that trip I've discovered that if I hang in there and pray hard for strength to face the challenges I've been given, I can, most of the time, find a way to be content and happy and live a full life. I just have to do my best each day to make the most of - not what I ordered, but - whatever has been put on my plate. I'm glad we went to New York that weekend. I learned a lot - about people, my daughter, and myself. And you know what else I learned? French Fries with breakfast are just fine.