Pete used to say, “I feel as if a giant duck is walking behind me, stomping out my past.” Try to imagine a duck – several stories tall - real, stuffed, cartoon, whatever you like; it’s your imagination. And now imagine that duck walking behind you with its big webbed feet crushing down on your elementary school leaving you with only memories.
There were several places in Pete’s life that had closed or moved or changed – squashed by the duck, he would say. And there were several friends who also seemed to be squashed by the duck. Pete was left with memories but without the touch or voice with which to reconnect physically to many he loved dearly, not least of which was his father and his mother.
The Duck. The Damn Duck.
I used to roll my eyes about the Duck because he was clearly being dramatic. His childhood had not been stomped out at all, and certainly not by an imaginary Duck. His childhood home still stands exactly where his father built it. They’ve added on to it but it’s still there. And his childhood school still stands, although the Diocese closed it long ago. All of the houses where he raised his children still stand, and they look basically the same minus one beautiful Cherry Blossom tree that was great for climbing.
The McDonald’s where he worked as a teenager is gone. The first office he had at National Starch is gone. National Starch was sold a couple times over at this point but the last building where he worked still stands.
And yet, he still talked about the Duck.
Pete was oriented in the past. It’s not just that he loved history, which he did; he was guided and grounded by his roots.
Throughout our marriage, he was so confused by my lack of physical roots or even my incessant need to think about and plan for the future. I was always thinking several months ahead and always leaning into what was next. And now that he is gone, I am desperate to find my roots, to hold onto something that has been here for awhile, something that knows me, knows the landscape.
Within the first few hours of Pete’s death, my family threw away his pillow. (It had blood stains from trying to revive him.) Then they changed all the sheets on my bed. They did every bit of laundry they could find. They cleaned the stains on the rug that had accumulated over several years of Pete spilling coffee or grinding dirt with his wheelchair. They also disposed of the medicine, his toothbrush, his deodorant. All that was left of him in the bathroom was a gold bar of Dial soap.
The day after his death, an army of family members collected every handicap accessible device in our home and drove them to a Goodwill Medical Supply store. All that remained of Pete’s journey with chronic illness was a manual wheelchair, a motorized wheelchair, a hospital bed and an accessible van – the bigger items for which we would need to find the right home.
The Duck had started to stamp out Pete’s life.
Yesterday, I sold the van. I sold it to one my closest companions, the associate pastor and her husband at my church whose daughter has special needs. Her daughter is 3 years old and she is now the proud owner of a fancy van, equipped with a motorized ramp.
Pete said once, “I wish I could see the world the way this little girl does.” Erin wrote about this in a blog post called "Heavenly Gazes and Wisdom." Objectively, we’re unsure what she is able to see or comprehend. But Pete was very clear - no one sees the world that way she does.
I remember years ago, I was pushing Pete in a wheelchair through an airport. Afterward, Pete said, “the only people who look at me when I am riding a wheelchair is others in wheelchairs and children.” Perhaps this insight is why Pete wished he could see what she sees.
Although as the van pulled away, I felt as though I was saying goodbye to part of my history. The van was part of my life for the past four years but now it has a future that I can partly imagine. The Duck and his big webbed feet didn’t squash out this part of Pete’s life.
A little piece of Pete’s world will continue as this little girl takes in the world through her unique senses as she travels through life in the back of Pete’s van, in the back of her van.
One more thing... If Pete were still alive, the changes proposed to the Affordable Care Act that are currently in the Senate would prove to be dangerous to him and others who are the most vulnerable in our society. If these changes pass, they will be devastating to Lucia. If you haven't already reached out to your representatives to let them know how important it is to care for our most vulnerable - those with pre-existing conditions, children and the elderly. If you want or need more information, please read Erin's most recent blog post, "Why I'm Worried: An Inhospitable Present for People with Disabilities."