суббота, 24 ноября 2012 г.

Love Fills My Shopping Cart

By Janet Perez Eckles

Oh, my friend, it's not what they take away from you that counts. It's what you do with what you have left.
~Hubert Humphrey

My friend's excitement blasted through the phone line. "I'm going to the mall. There's a fifty percent off sale, just in time for Christmas. You want to come with me?"
That chance to get a bargain would usually spark in me a quick "yes." Before she'd have finished the sentence, I would have been grabbing my purse, but not anymore. Not now. Shopping was erased from the list of things I enjoyed. So much I missed, so much I needed to do, to accomplish, to live for. All vanished. All wiped away by the retinal disease that had robbed me of my remaining eyesight just a few months before.

Tears flowed with each step of my painful adjustment.

"Mommy, can I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?" my five-year-old asked.

A simple task, but now, groping to find the pantry and the items in it wasn't that easy. Trying to distinguish jars or cans from one another increased my frustration. Anxiety cramped my stomach as I feared I couldn't be a "normal" mommy to my three-, five-, and seven-year old sons.

It was the Christmas season now, and my tasks multiplied. I had to try harder to squelch my fear. While following my routine, I fumbled with apparent resignation, but inside I still longed to have even a tiny bit of eyesight.

I would have been satisfied even with the miniscule amount of sight I'd had just the Christmas before. It had allowed me to distinguish the boys' facial expressions and the sparkle in their eyes when they opened their gifts.

But this Christmas season, I saw a gray nothing — no red or green, no colors, no shadows; nothing.

Although reluctant, I accompanied my husband, Gene, on shopping trips. I held onto the shopping cart and he pulled it through crowded aisles.

"Look at that," he said. "Jeff would love that."

I smiled and looked in his direction.

"Honey, I'm sorry," he said.

I shrugged my shoulders. "Hey, I forget too."

But I never forgot. The truth was that time and time again, out of habit, I glanced in the direction of the object, but with no retina function, my brain didn't register anything. That part of my life was painfully empty... as empty as the shopping cart seemed to me.

Then, one cold morning in December, I inhaled a long breath and vowed that this upcoming Christmas season would be the one where I would conquer my emotions and follow through with the usual holiday tasks. I lined up all the boxes holding decorations against the wall.

"Okay, guys, who wants to watch a movie?" Gene rounded up our sons, giving me the time to arrange the decorations.

"You go with Daddy," I said, "and maybe I'll have some cookies for you later."

Months of practice made baking easier, the burning episodes less frequent, and mistakes like using flour for powdered sugar were also a thing of the past. I navigated through the kitchen with relative ease. Even doing laundry and cleaning became simpler each time I did them. Barefoot, I could tell which spots I'd missed while sweeping the kitchen floor.

I reached into the storage boxes filled with Christmas treasures, and the moment my fingers touched an item, the shape and texture told me what it was. Since I'd seen it while sighted, memories of its color painted the item in my mind. I decorated each area of the house, leaving the tree decoration as a task for our sons and leaving Gene the job of placing the star atop the Christmas tree.

I raised the volume of "Silent Night" on the stereo and relaxed on the sofa. My darkness suddenly had a soothing melody.

Christmas morning came quickly, and I heard the high-pitched voices of our sons outside our bedroom door. They came in and rushed to our bed. "Guys, get up, we want to open presents."

Each voice had a distinct sound and I could tell their mood by the inflection and tone. They jumped, giggled, and teased each other as we wiped the sleep from our eyes.

I reached for my robe and held out my hand, "C'mon, let's see what Santa brought."

Leading me by the hand was normal for them. But this time, they rushed out the door and headed toward the Christmas tree in our family room.

I followed the familiar path to the couch. A fresh pine scent wafted through, and bells on the tree chimed as they lifted packages to find theirs.

"Let's take turns," their daddy said. "And don't forget to tell Mommy what you got."

I sighed inwardly. My husband's thoughtfulness warmed my heart, but following that instruction would be difficult in the midst of their excitement.

"Look what I got." Joe ripped wrapping paper and placed it on my lap.

I reached out my hand. "Show your mommy."

It wasn't really the gift I wanted to see, but the expressions of delight that matched their words. I longed to see the sparkle in their eyes when they opened what they had asked for all year long.

That's when I realized that dwelling on what I couldn't see threatened to erase the Christmas joy. I fought the temptation to sink into self-pity, and swallowed hard to keep the tears inside.

My husband appeared behind me on the couch and whispered in my ear, "Are you okay?"

I nodded. "I'll be back."

I rose from the couch and groped my way to the bedroom. I sat on the bed and chided myself for being unable to handle this time with my family.

I had been so strong, had faced tough moments with courage, but now… why the sadness, the anguish and impatience?

I couldn't understand. With a tissue, I pressed my eyes and sobs poured out.

My husband slid beside me on the bed. "What can I do for you?"

His sweetness and warmth further emphasized my sorrow. I was disappointing him, causing an added burden for him. With emotional distress, I'd failed in my role as a wife to him and a mom to my sons.

And when anguish nearly overwhelmed me, I suppressed one last sob and looked up. "God, help me to have the courage and strength I need."

"This is the best present yet!" one of our sons cried out.

I held my breath and paused for a few moments. My son's words brought a sobering truth that opened the eyes of my heart. His gift delighted him. But I had missed mine, overlooking and disregarding my greatest present — the one that filled the emptiness of my dark world. It was in the family room — it sang to me with little voices, with little arms that hugged me, and with the sweetest melody of each "I love you, Mommy."

I stuffed the wrinkled tissue in my pocket and reached for Gene's hand. "Let's go. I don't want to miss a minute of this."

I had asked God to help me cope. But rather than just coping, He taught me to enjoy what lies beyond physical sight, what the warmth of love offers and what truly holds meaning and purpose.

Years have passed, and I now do a better kind of shopping. Walking through the aisles of life, I find the bargains of a lifetime. I put in my cart a large package of appreciation for what I still have, followed by boxes of creativity to tackle all the tasks of being a mom and wife, a good supply of courage to defeat thoughts of gloom, and even add a few jars labeled "sense of humor."

Equipped to care for my family, I wait with anticipation for each Christmas, when the gift of their love delights the eyes of my heart.

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