My son and daughter-in-law brought me an Easter Lily. It is my very favorite flower, and this one is particularly beautiful. They surprise me with one every year, and even when they come into the house, and say, “Close your eyes…”, it never occurs to me until I open my eyes that my gorgeous lily has arrived. And with its arrival, I cannot help but remember the very first one that was given to me. Easter Sunday, 1961.
There are times in our lives when we have it all together, and we know it. Everything is right. Everything works. And it is so easy to be in those moments. One of those times, for me, was in the eighth grade. When I hear adult after adult say how awful their junior high school years were, I sit mute as a post, because I was happy, grateful, and saw life as one sparkling promise waiting for me to discover another facet with each new day.
My family had moved into our new house in January, 1961. We were located on the northeastern edge of town, surrounded by alfalfa fields, peach orchards, grape vineyards, corn, and cows. I transferred from a large seventh and eighth grade junior high school that served mostly town kids to a small, rural kindergarten through eighth grade school. There were three eighth grade classes, and I already had covered everything they were studying in my other school. I felt at home, welcomed, and accepted, and then I overheard my home room teacher tell my English teacher they finally got a good one when I transferred to this school. Yes, I was exactly where I belonged.
Added to my perfect school were my ballet lessons. There could not have been a better career choice for a tall, thin, athletic lover of music and dance. That year, I realized ballet was no longer just an activity, but a dream that could very easily be realized if I worked hard, and dedicated myself to achieving measured goals. There was no happier place in my mind than the vision I held of me dancing on stage with a great ballet company. I knew I could do it. And nothing was going to stop me, or slow me down.
Except the one thing I never saw coming.
It was the day before Easter, and I was so prepared. Cute as a bug new pink gingham dress, new white shoes, new white purse, new pink lipstick. I thought I looked stunning, and could hardly wait to wear it all to church services the next day. I was going to sing in the program, and felt especially happy at the prospect of my first Easter in my new home.
My friends all had gone to Dodge Ridge, their favorite ski resort in the Sierra Nevadas, for what would probably be their last ski trip for the season. I was not a skier, so I remained at home, waiting patiently for the next day’s big events. That Saturday was dragging by with no one in town to even talk to on the phone. I wandered outside and heard neighborhood kids playing in the front yard of my pastor’s house down the street. It sounded like a fun game of something, so I walked down to check it out.
There were about eight kids playing in the front yard. Most of them were really little kids, between the ages of five and ten. I was thirteen, so that made me the instant leader and boss of the game. And what was the game? Mother May I! I took over, and was telling everyone what to do, thoroughly enjoying, once again, being the in-charge, confident young star of my world. Even when it was a little kids’ game, I was the big fish in a very small pond, and relishing every moment of it.
Until I slipped on the clover which my pastor had planted as a front yard. I slipped and sat down hard on my left ankle. To that point in time, I believed I had experienced pain. Then, I knew better. Never had anything hurt so much that I could not draw breath, nor could I move. Just sat there, immobilized by the sheer intensity of it. I do not know how long I sat on that clover lawn, but I do recall my sister encouraging me to stand up, and see if I could walk. She helped me stand, but there was absolutely no way I could put my weight on that foot.
Hopping all the way home on my uninjured foot, I finally made it up the street, up the steps of our front porch, and through the front door. I told my parents what had happened, and after looking at it, my dad decided, because there was, rather than huge swelling, only a bulge on the outside of my ankle, all I needed was some ice, and I would be fine. He filled a plastic bag with ice cubes, and jiggled my ankle all around trying to cover the injury site so it would not swell. Yes, jiggled my ankle all around.
There are events that have such significant impact on ones life, it is difficult to describe. This particular event was one of those. I was not able to walk on my foot, but my ankle did not swell any more, and the ice treatment, although pure torture, was given credit for that. My dad was sure all would be fine, and I was sure of something even more important: Easter Sunday was the next day, and I was going to wear my new dress, shoes, and pink lipstick, and carry that new white purse to church, no matter what.
I recall hopping down the hall to my bedroom that night, and wondering why I was sweating so much since it was pretty cold outside. I recall rocking back and forth on my bed all night long from the intense pain. And I recall trying to hop to my parents’ bedroom early the next morning to tell them I did not think my ankle was going to be all right. I definitely recall calling my dad’s name from the hallway just as I passed out and crashed to the floor. The rest is a bit of a blur until I was in the emergency room of our local hospital. X-rays entailed more ankle jiggling, and by then I was not holding anything back. I needed people to stop moving my ankle!
The emergency room doctor called in an orthopedic specialist, and everyone was speaking in hushed tones. Everyone but my mother. She had an unfortunate manner in dealing with all serious matters, and that included copious tears and vocalizations that could shatter glass. I had not been given any meds for pain, and could not manage my level of discomfort and her drama, too. I asked my dad to take her out of the examination room, and he did so, immediately.
When my dad returned, the doctors told him about the break and its seriousness, because my ankle had been broken in the growth center, and I had not reached my full height, yet. They discussed the reality of that leg not growing anymore, me having one shorter leg, and the possibility of surgery. Talking and talking; finally all deciding against surgery; they would just cast it. Hopefully, I would not grow too much more, and if everything progressed as they thought it might, I would be on crutches, in a non-weight-bearing cast for eight weeks, and I would end up with one leg only about an inch shorter than the other.
Casting my ankle was a nightmare, because there had been so much time since the break, and my ankle had experienced so much jiggling. I fainted again, and just wanted someone to give me some medicine to make it stop hurting, just a little. They finally did, and it did.
We went home, and I lay on the sofa in the living room that evening, downcast and depressed that something so silly as a child’s game could ruin my Easter, and worse, my dancing career. That was the hardest to face. I was pretty consumed with pain at the hospital, but could remember with exquisite clarity the look of amusement on the orthopedic surgeon’s face when I asked him if I could dance after this was all over. He smirked, and blathered on about the extent of the break, the time I would be in a cast, and the effort it would take just to get my leg back to normal after bearing no weight for such a long time. The atrophy, the physical therapy that would be required, the shortness of one leg; on he went as though it were just another day at the office for him, and not the end of a life dream for me.
Later that night there was a light knock on our door, and when my sister answered it, there stood our pastor, his wife and an Easter Lily. They came in and gave me my flower, and spent a few lovely minutes talking to me, apologizing for my ordeal, and praying for my swift recovery. They even told me my pretty soprano voice had been missed in the program. I doubted that, but was touched they mentioned it.
When they left, all I could do was stare at that beautiful plant they brought me. I had previously researched the significance and history of the Easter Lily, and remembered, as I looked at those pretty trumpet shaped flowers, it symbolized purity, virtue, innocence, hope and life. At that moment, I felt fairly certain I had a lock on purity, virtue, and innocence. But, hope and life were hanging in the balance, and it took me the rest of that school year and summer vacation to get those two back on track.
In those two Easter related days, I learned some very important lessons. One is, I have an incredible pain tolerance. The doctors at the hospital kept asking my dad why he had not brought me in sooner, and all he could tell them was I had told him it hurt, but I would be fine. I overheard their questions to him, and I was not even going to try to explain how much a thirteen year old girl could endure if it meant she would not be able to wear her new dress if the pain got the better of her. Another lesson was about dreams deferred. I was awfully young to learn dreams could be snatched away in a heartbeat. But, they can be restored, too; sometimes intact, sometimes completely different than the original. I found dreams also can be kept, put away in a quiet and safe place, visited now and again, but mostly a cherished hope that took an unexpected turn, and had to be folded up and tucked away for safe keeping. Finally, I learned no matter how far into the heavens we soar, there are downdrafts that can bring us to places we would rather not have gone, and the eventual outcomes always seem to be dependent upon the direction our compass is set. Personally, I prefer due north.
“More stars in the north are seen not to set, while in the south certain stars are no longer seen to rise.” Nicolaus Copernicus