Probably around a year into my circadian rhythm destroying career, I sat on my close friend's deck people watching the patrons of the nearby Dairy Queen on a beautiful summer evening. As we sipped our micro-brews, because we were now employed career women who could afford better than Keystone or Grainbelt, I said "So this is it, huh?" She asked "Is what it?" I replied, "This is life? This is what we couldn't wait to get through high school, and then college, and then to be employed with a real job for? Wow. This. Sucks." We laughed and for me, it is one of those epiphanic moments that changed me. All I had experienced in that past year had culminated in that moment. Life wasn't just around the corner, waiting until your check list is completed. Life is everywhere, all around you at every moment.
The Critical Care Unit was not an emotionally easy place to work. There were many days I went home and cried. Cried because life did not seem fair, cried out of frustration, cried because human nature had disappointed me, cried because I was disappointed in myself. However, those 24 beds and the patients that occupied them gave me gifts that I will never be able to repay. As much as I would have liked to have avoided the questions that arose from their stories, their persistance in my head was unrelenting. "What if you were gone tomorrow?" "What would you do differently if you found out you had a brain tumor?" "Do those you love, know you love them?" The questions go on and on. generated from so many different stories. A dad who went to work like normal, who would never go home due to a freak accident. A teenager, just being a teen: gone. An elderly man whose family just couldn't cope with making health care decisions, and so we watched his soul go, months before his body did. A young woman, a careless car accident, and the only thing that made sense would be others getting life from her organs. A young man who defied all the rules, who was by all practical purposes was supposed to die, and we watched him walk out of the unit. He got a second chance.
Really the stories go on and on, each one leaving a little brush stroke on my life. I went into this job thinking I knew where my life would take me and how I would live it. After my years in the unit, I came out knowing nothing is certain, except change. Every day is honestly a gift, regardless of how cold it is, and life does not wait "out there" for us. I learned to love without abandon.
I'm human and therefore get caught up in the chaos of life, worrying about things that really don't matter. Things that are trivial, like the constant pile of Legos on my table and the train tracks built in the center of my kitchen floor. I worry in my current job, where my employers don't require daily showers, but do require a lot of snacks, that my house is in a constant state of disarray and my car is becoming a rolling dumpster. But every once in a while, life will force be back on my heels and remind me of what is important. Have I loved enough, and do those I love know it? Have I forgiven? Have I stopped, stood still and just inhaled the chaos? Have I looked, really looked beyond the mess and seen the little hands that built the Legos or train tracks or drew the million pictures that in bubble letters say: "Mom I Love You"? Have I thanked my better half for, in my darkest times, still making me laugh? I truly hope I have.