It’s a Thanksgiving column, of sorts. (My official Gratitude List should surface next week.)
Old friend Gary Carter (no relation) keeps a grateful heart — even when his path has been through some danged dark woods.
“Old?” He acknowledges that — though his still-boyish grin and manner offset his white hair. Age makes his accomplishment even more remarkable: This month at 62-and-a-half he begins his dream job: a rigorous Resident Nurse residency in Washington (D.C.) Hospital Center’s emergency department.
(He said that WHC is a national leader in emergency preparedness and ability to respond to mass casualty incidents. The ER / trauma center tallied 85,000-plus visits in FY 2012. Wowsers.)
He graduated summa cum laude from Arlington’s Marymount University in May with a BS in Nursing; in June he qualified as an RN. Now, what further blows what’s-left-of-my-mind is this: He had been an ENGLISH major (William-&-Mary)! We used to chat English-y stuff with teacher Walter Robinson in the Andrew Lewis High School cafeteria. Who knew that Gary could work BOTH sides of his brain?!
He sees the end of his “re-education” as a beginning: “Trying to prove to these WHC health professionals, who have taken quite a chance spending so many resources equipping a codger, that they’re not wasting their money.”
Yet he admits to waking up at 2 a.m., thinking “What in the world am I doing?”
He’s still a gifted wordsmith, so I’ll give you his own words. (I saved his homily from his mom’s funeral: words I wish could be written about me OR by me.)
“Being intimately involved in the care preceding the deaths of three loved ones and in the long trek of my mother through the brambles and thickets of Alzheimer’s disease (which ended during final exams of my summer semester 2011) has formed me in ways I could not have imagined earlier in my life. My father died in 1996 … having lived with a rare and serious heart ailment … for most of his adult life. My wife died in 2006 of brain tumors after fighting breast cancer for seven years [his tender care of her was my Valentine 2007 topic]. And during the summer and fall of 2009, a close friend and fellow parishioner died from gastric cancer at the age of 47.
“In the pain and messiness of these deaths, I found something to make my heart sing. Somehow I was fulfilled by all of it: Helping with the J-tubes, the colostomy bags, the mediports, managing the meds, cleaning what needed cleaning, and sometimes just sitting with them in sadness and helplessness.
“… Making those suffering people as comfortable as possible seemed to be the thing I should be doing…. I came to see it was the thing I could do.
“The stuff we learn the hard way sticks with us. Among the things I’ve learned recently is how to give and how to receive even the smallest thing with a contentment that will, if I allow it, grow into joy; and in this learning to deny to apathy and discontent a victory in transforming what can be the usefulness of ‘old age’ into bitter uselessness.
“Nothing in my life had prepared me for the great gift of being with these loved ones as they lived with their illnesses and died of them. Something energized my brain and my hands; I felt awakened. And, miraculously, it seemed that I was good at what was unexpectedly giving me such satisfaction.”
And what of those ALHS cafeteria-chats, where we laughed about literature and life? “I’m just glad,” wrote Gary, “that I didn’t know then that I would experience anything but unbroken tranquility in my adult stage; I might not have had the pluck to keep on keepin’ on.”
But we are oh-so-glad you did keep on, dear Gary. I’m thankful you are still on the planet.
And Reader, if you have — or ARE — one such friend, give thanks!