Friday, February 4, 2011

How Fragile We Are

Yesterday left me thinking about how fragile life is. How fragile, and how very little control we have. And how precious every moment is that we live and breathe and carry on.
Two experiences, back to back, put me into this mood. First, we as a family attended the kick-off meeting for this year's Relay for Life. One of Jeff's patients had invited us to the meeting because the patient would be speaking. Of the three speakers, one was the mother of a patient and two were patients, so I don't know which one invited us. They all touched my heart.
As they spoke of their battles with cancer, of the support from friends and family, and even a little of Dr. Hancock's help in saving their lives, I couldn't stop the tears. My heart aches for their struggles, yet I know we'd all rather be loved than pitied. I listened to the speakers in awe, overcome by their incredible endurance. I am so inspired by them for being so strong, and proud of my husband for doing this difficult line of work.
There are many times when Jeff has to stay late or go in early or go in on a day off or spend so much of the limited "our time" on the phone. Having survived the long years of medical school, the brutal hours of residency, and the rigors of Fellowship, I cling to the free time that we actually get together. I remember Samuel asking once, "Can Daddy come over today?" It has been a long row to hoe. And often a lonely one. Still.
But at the Relay for Life, I was reminded how it is all worth it. The best thing we can do is to help each other through this life. I gave up my career to stay home and help the kids through their life. It's not all that glamorous, but it is all that important. I give up much of the time with my husband so he can help others, too. Sometimes his help is to simply assist others to live another day. And that is truly important. Every new day is a precious gift. A few years ago I told Jeff that I had realized something: that even though I'm not out saving the world like he is, I am supporting him so that he can. That's my contribution. I sometimes miss the satisfaction I had when I was working, and I often miss the chance to socialize, but in the grand scheme of things, they don't really matter.
Dr. Hancock, one speaker said, saved my son's life. I bawled. Dr. Hancock, the second speaker said, told me I was all clear. I bawled again. Dr. Hancock's wife, the last one said, befriended me at the park shortly before I found out I had cancer and went to meet Dr. Hancock for the first time. I blinked in amazement that she remembered. I'm sure to her that was such a little thing for a stranger to chat with her, but hearing her last night talk about how I'd been kind, well, it meant the world to me. It was as if she recognized that I'm doing what I can, that even though I'm in the shadows, I matter. I'd had a really hard day yesterday, and she just pulled me straight out of the murky, choking waters of self-pity. She is the one fighting cancer, not me. She is the one who deserved praise, not me. But how blessed those words were. Thank you. I don't even know her name, but thank you.
The people around us at the meeting hadn't asked for cancer. Hadn't asked for leukemia. Hadn't asked that they or their children or their parents or brothers or sisters become fighters in this battle. But there they were, standing up together with the courage and hope of a trained army. I am so humbled by their strength.
So disease can throw off our life plans. That was the first of two how-fragile-we-are reality-checks last night.

The second was on our way home after the Relay for Life meeting. We'd stopped to tour the new (and AMAZING) Conference Center at BYU-Idaho, then hopped in the car to go home. It was already past the kids' bedtime. We were a block away from home when suddenly we had to stop the car. In front of us, on the street, were two bodies covered in blankets and people running frantically around. Apparently, just moments before we got there two college students had been crossing the street and were both hit by an oncoming car. The driver pulled over, another car stopped behind her, traffic stopped in both lanes, and people were scrambling to find even more blankets to cover the two students. It was a cold, February night. The students had landed with one on each lane. As Jeff pulled over and my brain pieced together the scene, I knew Jeff had to help. The kids and I sat in the car with the hazard lights flashing, watching as Jeff attended each of the victims. Each student had a cluster of people around them. Jeff knelt to assess each one, and was shortly joined by another physician who was driving the same road. They stayed on the scene until the ambulance and police arrived. As far as we know, the students will be okay but were pretty well banged up.
The students had been crossing the street on the pedestrian cross-walk. The yellow lights for their crossing were flashing, so presumably they'd pushed the light before crossing. Legally, they had done nothing wrong. I imagine they assumed the driver had seen them and would stop. Unfortunately, she didn't see them. I'm positive she didn't mean to hit them, but sometimes it's hard to see at night or a driver isn't paying attention. Luckily, nobody died.
You know, even when you have the right of way and are obeying the laws, it doesn't make a difference if an oncoming car doesn't stop. Maybe the students had even paused to see if the car saw them... I don't know. (We talked with our kids later about how so often students here cross the road rightfully, but they don't make sure cars see them. And it is scary. It happens alllll the time.)

Reality check: life is fragile. And ultimately we don't have much say in how long our time here will be. And even if we've taken all the precautions, pushed the cross-walk button, looked both ways, taken care of our bodies...well, any of us could get hit by something - whether it be a life-threatening disease or an oncoming car - at anytime. And it might not be anybody's fault. It just happens. We can't control these things that affect our lives. The only thing we can control is how we react.
I think when we respect our mortality and respect each other, when we do our best to help each other and walk hand-in-hand, when we watch out for each other, then it doesn't really matter how long or short our life is. What matters is what we've done with it. What matters is who we've helped in our own little sphere - whether it be the children around you or the patients who come to your husband's office, or the students who cross the street - we're all a part of this beautiful, fragile, wonderful world.


Ideas to keep kids occupied on a day off from school (when it was -24F with a -36F windchill!):
Play-Doh Penguins

Then put the penguin on your sister's head.

If all else fails, dress up the lampshade. Just don't let anything burn.

Charlotte's hair is so long it reaches her waist. Jeff put her hair up in my swim cap, which was a smart idea and I wonder why I never thought of it. Sam's off to the right, under water. Eleanor is sporting her pink goggles. Oliver was at basketball practice, or else he'd have been in the picture, too. Just pretend he's there.

Recipes: Good ol' fashioned New England Whoopie Pies.

Heads up: this is NOT a low calorie food.
Yield: 16 Whoopie Pies

3 Cups sugar
1 Cup butter or margarine, softened
4 eggs
1/2 Cup Vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon vanilla
6 Cups All Purpose Flour
2 Cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 Tablespoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 Cups milk

Preheat oven to 350F, or convection to 315F.
In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter and eggs together until well combined. Add oil and vanilla and beat again.
In a separate bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Add half of the dry mixture to the egg mixture and beat or stir to blend. Add 1 1 /2 cups milk and beat again. Add remaining dry mixture and beat until incorporated. Add remaining 1 1/2 cups milk and beat until blended.

With a large spoon, scoop out 32 circles of batter onto a greased baking sheet. (6 circles on a large jelly-roll sheet, each circle about 3" diameter). Bake for 10-12 minutes - there will be cracks in the top of the pies. Let cool.

Make Whoopie Pies into sandwich-style with filling between two flat sides of pies. Try to match circle sizes as best as possible.


I'm including two different ones - 1st is the one my mom always made when I was growing up, and 2nd is the one we like to make now. (The recipe above is very similar but not quite the same she made, but I found it works better for the elevation I'm at right now).

#1: Mom's (I've doubled it because I always run out otherwise):
1 1/2 C. Flour
2 C. Shortening
1 tsp. Salt
Beat above until creamy. Gently add 1 1/2 C. COLD water and beat thoroughly. Add 6 C. sifted powder sugar, beat well.

#2: The one we use now:
3 Cups Shortening (I know, ugh. Oh, well)
6 Cups powdered sugar
~3 Cups marshmallow fluff (topping)
Dash salt
2 tsp. vanilla
2/3 - 1 Cup milk (as needed)

In a deep bowl (so stuff doesn't fly out everywhere), combine all ingredients except milk and beat well. Add just enough milk to achieve a creamy consistency. Spread filling inside Whoopie Pies.


  1. Steph - I love love love the way you write. This was an absolutely beautiful look at life and love and the things we do to help each other. Your sacrifice to be a mother is well worth it, just look at those creative beauties! I love love love that Oliver put the penguin on Charlotte's head!

  2. Aw, Nancy, thanks! I love love love that you read what I wrote! :)

  3. great post, steph! life is fragile! i'm proud of you and jeff and all your goodness! oh so proud!