Returning

(Written on the road on New Year’s Eve.)

This year is drawing to a close. I’m thinking about all the ways I’m going back to places I’ve been before.

As I write this, I’m on my way back to my Illinois hometown. My sister is driving us back from Rochester, Minnesota. Our Dad has been having trouble with his strength and stamina since the summer, and his doctors thought he would likely have to have a stent put in his heart.

When Dad had an angiogram, his doctors at The Mayo Clinic told him that no, what he needed was a quintuple bypass.

My Dad is the reason I’m alive. In 2011, he was the one who insisted to my doctors that no, the care I was receiving was insufficient, and that we would go somewhere — anywhere — that would fight to figure out what was wrong with me. Dad pounded the phones and paced the halls in that hospital until someone would listen, and I ended up being moved to Mayo.

My Dad is the ultimate reason I do this work: not everyone has my Dad as their advocate. If we can figure out how to listen to one another and speak our stories to one another, maybe someone out there who doesn’t have my Dad won’t have to go through what my family and I did.

I’m thinking about how my wife and I returned home for Christmas. I’m thinking about returning to Sweet Home Chicago, how we passed through there on our way to my beloved rural home, and how we’re returning to Chicago in the next few days to spend time with old friends of mine.

I’m reflecting on how we returned to my wife’s circle of high school friends for our annual Christmas party, and how there are more and more new, beautiful chubby-cheeked children every year.

I’m remembering both of my Dad’s parents, who were patients at Mayo in Rochester at one point or another, and who have passed away. I’m grateful for my Mom’s Mom, who was also a patient there, and who is still with us at 93.

I’m making checklists in my head for our return to Los Angeles, packing up our clothes, shipping some Christmas gifts back, and returning to my mother-in-law’s to say goodbye before our flight.

I’m anxious about returning to California: as of right now, we’ll be in the air when my father is going through surgery. I remember how Dad was by my side every step of my ordeal, when I needed him, and I admit feeling guilty for not being there when he wakes up from having his rib cage sawed open and his heart stopped and restarted.

I’m returning to the house I grew up in (temporarily empty with both parents in Minnesota), comforted that Dad, without my prompting, told us, “Go back to LA, it’s all right. There’s nothing more you can do here.” If I have to leave Dad in the city that saved my life and lengthened the lives of three of my grandparents, and — we pray to God — will save his, my memories of this return to Rochester are not of Clinic appointments and procedures. They’re of laughter and shared meals, of watching football and playing games and doing nothing in a hotel but being together in the quiet week after Christmas.

We have few days left at home on the good, flat, fertile Prairie. After that, we’ll return back.

I’m grateful that this return to everyday life is coming with a reminder, that the work of talking with one another and understanding each other is the work of life and of the living.