Jesse, Sri Lanka, and Ma, Or…..Life Goes On

Your mama probably said it a million times. You say it yourself…. When your prom date stands you up. When you lose your job. When someone you love dies. When the guy that bought the lottery ticket right after you wins a million bucks. Life goes  on.

But that’s acceptance-lite. There’s more to the concept than that. More fear. More pain. More guilt.

Life does go on. With or in spite of us.

Jesse was my husband’s roommate and best friend for years before he moved and joined the military. He turned 28 in April. He’s been in one health care facility or another since October 2009. His story, shared by his devoted sister Charity, is here: BLOG FOR JESSE.

Brad (my husband), Paul and I went and visited Jesse last week, since he is spending a few weeks in an assisted living facility in our town. We told a lot of stories. Jesse laughed a lot with his eyes, and his nurse was thrilled when he said our names. We made plans to go back.

In the meantime….kids went to school. Work happened. Church happened. Drinking happened. Horse riding happened. Gardening happened. Drama happened. Life happened.

Brad and his friend Dave went back a few days later. Travis and I went back Wednesday night. We managed to stay a little bit past visiting hours without getting kicked out and left Jesse watching basketball.

Travis and I spent a few hours talking in the parking lot afterwards. I started talking about being in Sri Lanka in 2006, and I remembered….

Cows on the beach in Weligama, Sri Lanka.

Stepping out of time for three and a half weeks. Feeling totally disconnected from my life. Wondering if I still existed to the people at home, if they still would have a space for me in their lives when I got back. Trying to guess how relationships adjusted, whether work was getting done, whether the person doing it was better at it than me, how life was going on while I wasn’t in it.

It was surreal. My real life was blurry, and the place I was in was confusing and unfamiliar. The only contact I had with anyone I had known before I left was through the occasional quick email, if I could get to a local dial-up internet cafe. Even now, I can’t really connect that time with my real life – there isn’t a continuum to hang it on. It is less like remembering, and more like watching TV.

And I was there for less than a month. Maybe it would have been different if I was there longer and formed a mental attachment as an anchor. Maybe I’m just a wuss. It was just so scary to know that life was going on without me.

Then I came home. And settled back in to my life. Tried to talk to my friend Anura a couple of times, but the phone made it harder to understand each other’s accents. Got a letter from one of the kids I taught. Made friends with fellow travelers on that social dinosaur, MySpace.

And life went on. While the airport I flew in and out of was bombed, while the civil war finally exploded, while the tourists stayed away. While I knew that the friends I had made must be suffering from fear for family and from economic disaster through the loss of the tourism trade. My life went on, and I spared a thought and a prayer for them when I remembered, and kept living.

Yesterday I thought about my great-grandma, Ma Inscoe. She was in a nursing home as far back as I could remember, and I used to visit her with my grandmother once a week. I sang songs. Talked. Watch her nod her head. It never occured to me that she might need those visits, that even though she had crafts and sing-alongs and meals and books to occupy her, she might crave a connection to the people who had made up her life before. I just went because Granny took me. If I didn’t have to go, I didn’t.

For days since we first visited, I will be doing something, all caught up in it, and my mind will flash to Jesse lying in the hospital bed. Or I’ll be walking past Brad and glance over and see a faraway look in his eye and know that he is thinking about Jesse. And I wonder…what is Jesse doing right now? What is he thinking? Is he waiting for Brad to visit again? Does he want to know about our lives now? Or should we just talk about old times and pretend that life hasn’t gone on, that we aren’t out doing things while he is confined to a bed in a room with visitors coming at unpredictable times with no promises of when they will come again?

Except for his family. His mom, his sister, his little niece, other family members – they have followed him and visited him everywhere he has been. From Lousianna to Maryland, to Virginia, to North Carolina….and they will go wherever he is sent next. His mom calls the nurses to make sure they have the tv on the right channel when a game is on. His sister ensures he has entertainment and knows that his friends are thinking of him.  Their lives and his are intertwined. For them, life goes on together.

Can you imagine how it must feel to Jesse to know that he is so important to them? That he is a centerpiece of their existence, that their worlds are made up with him as a major part of it? He isn’t optional. He isn’t an afterthought. He isn’t a “when I have a free second, I’ll run by and check on him.” No, he is part of life. A participant in life. An enhancer of life.

He makes people happy, just because he is alive. And because he might not have been. And they give him a life, too, so that his life can go on, even when he can’t speak about it or chose what to do with it.

The connections between people…..the emptiness of disconnection….the despair of loneliness. The impact we all have on each other to keep each other alive. The impact we could have if we paid attention, thought a little more about the other person, gave a little more time. Jesse, Sri Lanka, Ma…I wish I’d realized all this earlier than a week ago.

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~ by gypsyjonga on May 21, 2011.

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