Without realizing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress. –Milan Kundera
Over a year ago, the day after Christmas 2010 — my son’s thirteenth birthday — my Dad called 911 because he was having an extremely hard time breathing. It was late morning as best we can figure; to emphasize the drama, he happened to be home by himself. I received a call just before we were about to have some cake that evening that he was “missing.” His car was home. His cell phone was on the table. His shoes were near the door. A scary two hours later, we caught up with him in the emergency room, maybe eight hours after he had made his call for help. If we are connected on Facebook or you follow my other blog, I probably shouldn’t repeat myself. Let’s just say it was the start of a terrible month.
I began writing “From All Anxiety” on January 1st, a few days later, after he had been transported to the University of Michigan’s CICU, which had very literally saved his life a few years before. The hours in a hospital are rarely pleasant — something ominous lurks behind every door, every tone, every loudspeaker crackle — but they are even worse when your patient is in an extremely serious place, unable to communicate with you, and the path forward is uncertain. Eventually, sitting in the uncomfortable visitor’s chair next to his window overlooking the helipad and, a bit further on, the Huron River, it felt like it was time to write something down, if only to preserve my fragile sanity, and as the writing went on I had the idea that it was also time to pull this collection together.
At the start, I wasn’t sure if the poem was going to be an elegy or a narrative, if he would ever even read it. We were lucky. Fifteen months and probably three hundred games of Words with Friends later — it turns out to be a good way to keep connected — I continue to be inexpressibly thankful that he was able to pull through that extremely difficult month. (Except, of course, when he has just played a 100-point word, which is frequently.)
The Detroit image that Andy captured always felt like a natural companion to this poem. My dad grew up in Detroit and I did just outside it. I worked in the Renaissance Center for a few years and always admired its broad-shouldered stance on the river and the views it gave us of the city. And the emergency life preserver, tucked into its strange yellow cabinet, was just what we had been looking for.
Here’s Andy’s caption:
As a child, Windsor, Ontario, only existed for me as the first of many cities on the way to family vacations in Niagara Falls, Toronto or Montreal. When I turned 19, it become a legal speakeasy where my college buddies and I would spend Saturday afternoons drinking beer and watching football. In my adult years, the visits to Windsor stopped as the family road trips were no more and I had turned 21.
One beautiful Sunday afternoon in the fall of 2009, my wife and I were trying to decide how to spend the day and settled on a day trip to Windsor. I had not visited in over 10 years, so I was not sure what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised to find a very clean and family friendly community. After having a wonderful meal at one of the city’s many unique restaurants we walked along the boardwalk watching the sun set over Detroit. I was amazed at how beautiful the city appeared from across the river and I wanted to capture that moment to offset all the negative articles I read about Detroit with the collapse of GM three months earlier.