Wednesday, December 26, 2007

THE VIEW FROM MY WINDOW (Hospital Thoughts 3.)

Mass General Hospital, originally uploaded by Huihua Ding.

This was the view from my room during the second week I spent in the hospital. To the left, I could also see the Tobin Bridge. When I walked the long hall to the other side of the building, which I did as soon as I was able, I could see the Charles River, slowed by glittering ice floes, and beyond it Boston's gritty, elegant skyline. Since I was a child, the sight of that skyline has always excited me, and it still did. But this time it had become a kind of moving picture--one I could see, but could not enter. I looked on it--and on my own recent active, happy life--with nostalgia and awe.

In the moving picture outside the hospital, people navigated the badly plowed streets and sidewalks on their way to work. They went through the motions of holiday shopping with the usual joy and frustration. They ducked into Starbucks across the street for a respite from the cold, or grabbed a drink at the Harvard Gardens. Ted and I had stopped there one afternoon after a particularly grueling appointment. The french fries were deliciously crispy and there was jazz on the stereo.

Inside the hospital, a different kind of life went on. The second night I was there, they wheeled in a new roommate. She had been hit by a car in the crosswalk of a city street, and had several broken bones. It took thirty-six hours before an operating room was available to repair her badly shattered ankle.

Though she was Chinese, and there was something of a language barrier between us, we became a great consolation to one another. Late at night, when they finally turned out the lights, we would share our litany of suffering, taking turns in the dark. We didn't so much complain of our pain, as speak of it with wonder.

Weren't we supposed to be outside, among the crowd in the street? Weren't we part of the moving picture that is life? How had we landed here? Surely, there was some mistake.

Every night ended with the same question. "Why are we suffering?" my roommate would ask.

"I don't know," I'd say. "But we just have to accept it."

The last night I was there I was almost asleep when she asked her question. I was too tired to respond, but she no longer needed to hear my voice. I had begun to coast into a dream when I heard her answer herself three times.

Don't know; just have to accept.
Don't know; just have to accept.
Don't know; just have to accept.

In her voice, the words sounded like a kind of poem, the limited human answer to so much of the mystery that is life.

Outside, the snow continued to fall, and people continued to travel through the moving picture in the street, eager to get where they were going. My friend and I, temporarily stopped by pain and indignity and tedium, were them. And they, whether they knew it or not, were us.

It's something I hope I don't forget.


Marilyn said...

Oh, Patry, this brought tears. Such a powerful reminder and mantra for EVERYTHING in life..."don't know; just have to accept." Sending you big hugs, much love and powerful healing vibes... ~Marilyn

Left-handed Trees... said...

So beautiful, Patry..."Don't know; just have to accept," is pure poetry to me as well. I am thinking of you.

paris parfait said...

Oh, Patry you continue to be an inspiration with your keen and poetic observations - even amidst pain. Hoping you are soon feeling so much better. Thank you for sharing your remarkable journey with us. Much love to you. Tara xo

Emma said...

Such graciousness. Carry on, lovely lady.

Anonymous said...

. . . i love you patry . . . what else is there to say? . . . i see you, i hear you, i love you . . .

Crockhead said...

Patry, the name of your blog is very relevant to your hospital mantra, "Don't know; just have to accept." You have been an inspiration to us when you were healthy, and now, that you're sick, you continue to inspire. We will all "simply wait," although not always patiently for your return to good health.

Sky said...

ah, the lessons before us at every turn. as you share with us pieces of your life, moments which implore you to pay attention or to explore a situation for deeper meaning, you teach me so much and comfort me in that process. thank you, patry. :)

Bill said...

My first time here, Patry, and I'm so sorry to hear of your trouble. And I'm grateful for your beautiful spirit. You've often been in my thoughts. More than ever, now.

rdl said...

Oh P. i wish i could take it all away and we could be sippin on some red wine and chocolates - soon!!

Larramie said...

"To every season....there is a reason..." which is why we must accept, yet not give in. So happy to hear from you, Patry.

rbarenblat said...

This is such powerful stuff. Thank you for opening this window for us.

A year ago tonight I was in the hospital here. You're reminding me of that, in the best and most valuable ways.

Wishing you a sweet new year.

Tinker said...

You are amazing and inspiring, Patry - and I'm crying for you, your roommate, for everyone in pain of any kind...'don't know - just accept' - that's all any of us can do really, isn't it?
That mantra, your words - will be with me for a very long time. Sending you many, many hugs, healing thoughts and as much love, comfort and bliss as possible. Be well, my friend.

Zhoen said...

No reason. But lessons to be wrangled out of the pain, if you are bloodyminded and persistent enough.

I gasped when I saw that view that I saw so often for three years. I hadn't envisioned you there, somehow. Now, I can see nothing but. There is a little Italian market just around the corner with all sorts of deliciousness. Stop at Pace's and you may find some unexpected comfort.

floots said...

this whole post made me happy as it means that you are feeling better and sharing
also - as i'm sure it did for many readers - it took me back to my own hospitalisation
i used to watch the people going into the pub - i got there in the end :)
just have to accept
thank you patry

Lorna said...

Happiness, sadness, awe at your dignity and mindfulness---all these are crowding around in my head, making it impossible not to want to comfort you, and be comforted by you. The word is such a powerful thing.

madelyn said...

I popped over via Tara and
wished to give you a warm hug and
you will be in my prayers every single
day until you get better:)

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Your words are so lovely, so smart--no surprise there. And the mantra is one I know I'll say often. Thank you for sharing this journey with us. Healing prayers floating your way from St. Louis.

Anonymous said...

Blessed be Patry, the tears I shed over yor litany for life were tears of wonder. I am sending the purest whie light I can for your comfort and healing.

Becca said...

A stunning reminder that our lives can be forever changed in an instant. Your words and message are duly noted and appreciated.

You are in my thoughts as you work your way through this passage and back to health. Stay strong, and walk in the light!

Fred Garber said...

Patry...great and powerful post. It reminds that a sister of Saint Francis once told me that her favorite prayer was "Let thy will be done".

Melly said...

Patry, I haven't been around and just saw what you've been going through the past few months.

You are a wonderful person, there's just no other way to say it.

I've been (with hubby) in that bubble where you feel everyone around you just keeps going without noticing you've stopped to rest for a little while. But that's all it is, just a little rest!

My thoughts are with you and with Ted and your children. Keep us updated.

I know I'm miles away, but if there's anything, at all, I can do...


Paula Scott Molokai Girl Studio said...

Acceptance for most comes with a power struggle. Yet, there is much wisdom in recognizing things you do have control over and things you do not. All we really do have control over (and some have a firm grip on this while others have to work harder at the grip) is how we respond to life's events.
My thoughts and prayers are with both of you. Blessings come in the strangest forms.

Lisa said...

This is so beautiful. I hope you are beginning to feel stronger. Much love. xo

Naturegirl said...

Patry: Tara sent me over!I pray for your complete recovery and that soon you will be in the comfort of your own home.
I too spent a few nights in hospital
in recent weeks looking out the window waiting hrs. to have my broken ankle does think a whole lot while helpless and at the mercy of the nurses to help you get to the washroom let alone help manage your physical pain.
I am now home and posting images from my windows! Get well soon!
naturegirl from a second story window in Canada. xo

Anonymous said...

Patry - why am I not surprised to hear you touched the soul of your roommate and helped her through her own tough time? My bet is she, like the rest of us who adore you, won't soon forget your wise words.

Be well.


robin andrea said...

Patry-- I may have to repeat that poetic mantra to my mom who just ended up in the hospital yesterday with bacterial pneumonia. The view from your window encompasses one of those slices of truth about the world, and can only be seen from that vantage point.

I am so glad you are on the mend.

Anonymous said...

There is something so hauntingly altering about this piece. I feel I entered into the feeling and the concreteness of your surroundings with you. It made me want to turn the page to the next part of the story while lying in my bed with the covers pulled up over me. Simultaneously, it made me want to fly to Boston to see the Gardens lit up, kiss my family members, and tiptoe into the sanctity of your hospital room with Christmas cookies in hand and say hello. Growing up we could see the Boston skyline across the water, looking close enough to touch.

Anonymous said...

Inspiring writing Patry. Get well soon. Love from Jonathan.

Michael said...

I hope you're well soon, Patry. I'm sorry I didn't stop by sooner to offer this wish.

Laura Benedict said...

Lovely words, lovely reminder, Patry.

Saying healing prayers for you--L.

bella said...

Your writing stuns me, leaves me raw.
Are there words enough to say thank-you?
And to see, to know, that you are them and they are you, may this stay with you always.
sending you love and acceptance.

steve on the slow train said...


Everyone has said it so well--beautiful, poetic, true. Amishlaw mentions the title of your blog, simply wait, as fitting. And it is. When I first discovered your blog, it was called The Marvelous Garden, and I was reminded of that title in the first paragraphs of this post: in spite of the urban setting and the weather, the skyline of Boston becomes a marvelous garden from your window.

With all your other loyal readers, I wish you a speedy recovery, and all the best to you and your family for the New Year.

Jessie said...

patry, you are such a beautiful writer. i could sit with these words for a long, long time. I read somewhere, "we paint our lives as we write our work." if this is true, then you are painting a life that both deep and full. this tension of opposites--it has the powerful effect of making one realize the intensity of life and death and everything in between.

much love to you. be well.

Anonymous said...

Keep writing, Patry. Keep writing. Your writing teaches us, and we need this. Your writing is a window into a world we need to see. It enriches us.

Much love and light continuing to you! :)

Anonymous said...

I understand this feeling of being on the outside and looking in. I am so sorry that you are facing what you are facing. But your sensibility and courage will see you through. I have no doubt of this.

Anonymous said...

These beautiful words have profoundly affected me, following me since I first read them a few days ago after stumbling on your blog. I found my way here because of things writing-related, because of being deep into revisions that have left me smugly self-confident and even more fearful. But it's simple. If I have only one passage in my pages that speaks like your post, I've accomplished what I'm meant to do: set myself on a healing path and tossed out some of the healing seeds and seen them take root in the world.

A prayer to me is nothing more than a belief in what is. My prayers today, this week, this coming year, are for you, Patry.

You've sent me back to some other equally beautifully words- Jane Hirshfield- which I'll post separately.


Anonymous said...

by Jane Hirshfield

Some stories last many centuries,
others only a moment.
All alter over that lifetime like beach-glass,
grow distant and more beautiful with salt.

Yet even today, to look at a tree
and ask the story Who are you? is to be transformed.

There is a stage in us where each being, each thing, is a mirror.

Then the bees of self pour from the hive-door,
ravenous to enter the sweetness of flowering nettles and thistle.

Next comes the ringing a stone or violin or empty bucket
gives off—
the immeasurable’s continuous singing,
before it goes back into story and feeling.

In Borneo, there are palm trees that walk on their high roots.
Slowly, with effort, they lift one leg then another.

I would like to join that stilted transmigration,
to feel my own skin vertical as theirs:
an ant-road, a highway for beetles.

I would like not minding, whatever travels my heart.
To follow it all the way into leaf-form, bark-furl, root-touch,
and then keep walking, unimaginably further

Patry Francis said...

As we approach another new year, I am filled with gratitude for all the friends who have continued to visit, and to leave behind such thoughtful, wise, supportive words.

Thanks, too, to the anonymous "m" who left such a lovely message, and followed it with the stunning Hirschfield poem. It reminded me how much I've always loved her work.

Amber said...

Checking in and sending up prayers for you...

Will this make you smile? I gave your book as a gift this year. I know she will love it. I should post a pic!


Patry Francis said...

Thanks, Amber. That DEFINITELY made me smile.

katrina said...


I'm so saddened by the news of your illness. How courageous you are, dear woman. I'll send thoughts of healing, light, and hope your way, my friend.

Love to you and yours,