This past week, Anthony and I traveled south on US 31 to see his new specialist in Indianapolis. The drive is a three hour, straight shot down an asphalt artery of our state to the heart of the Indiana University Health system which, according to U.S. News and World Reports, is touted as one of the best in the country. My trusty Camry rolled along with a quiet and apprehensive Anthony at my side, Picc line peeking out of his shirtsleeve. I felt blessed knowing my precious cargo would soon be in the gifted hands of one of the best Crohn’s doctors available to anyone. We chatted some, mostly about what we already knew or what Trudy and Jeremy told us to expect; we commented as the buildings along the way became taller, more impressive, their expansive glass facades glistening in the sun – lighting the way. What we didn’t talk about were the “What if’s . . .” It was as if not speaking our fears made them invisible and impotent. We had no words to express the thoughts and fears skulking like ambient noise in our souls.
As we sped along to Anthony’s future, Spirit spoke to me – “Lisa, it is time to learn to ride shotgun for Anthony.” In that biblical “twinkling”, that nanosecond of life, I knew what I was being told. My heart flashed back in time as my breathing momentarily ceased, like a sleep apnea of the heart. Memories raising Anthony careened through my mind and screeched to a halt in the living room of our tiny green house where Anthony learned to walk. There we were, early 1988, Anthony dressed in shorts and a Cookie Monster t-shirt. He was giving clear signals that he was done cruising the furniture and was ready to head out to new territory. His dad even snapped a picture of that precise moment – me hovering above as Anthony, with a smile that still melts hearts, raises chubby hands to grasp my fingers – a quintessential Kodak moment frozen in time. Anthony stuck his little right foot straight out as if stepping into the Hokey Pokey of life and brought it down with a thud, then the left, then the right, left, right. With each step I held my breath as Anthony teetered forward, letting go of my fingers one by one until he gleefully landed in his father’s outstretched arms on the other side of the room.
In that moment of remembering, I knew we were not just headed to an appointment on U.S. 31. We were headed for an appointment with Anthony’s future – a future that would one day not include me as his advocate and protector. One day I would be gone. How could I teach him to take charge of his health, his healing, and his life when every fiber of my role as his parent wanted to wave a magic wand and make it all go away – or at the very least, take the illness for him? It just didn’t seem fair. (Are you listening, God?)
Remember the scenes in those old black and white cowboy movies where the stagecoach bearing passengers and some sort of valuable cargo is leisurely rolling along a serene, yet rocky, countryside? The driver confidently perched atop is holding the reins on a team of sturdy horses – next to him, the shotgun guy with trusty Winchester rifle tucked at his side, ready to defend and protect the driver, passengers and cargo at any cost. His job is to keep a vigilant eye on the horizon, to read the shadows, to look up, look down and all around for the enemy and to alert the driver if one should appear. It is not a job for the faint of heart.
Of course the stagecoach is attacked and as the driver whips the team of horses to frightening speeds, the coach pitches violently side to side trying to escape; a wheel falls off, the passengers scream. As much as he wants to, Shotgun Guy cannot reach over and grab the reigns and help drive the coach – that is not his job – how would he shoot? And because he is committed to protecting the driver, all he can do is shoot to kill anyone or anything that dares imperil the driver. Shotgun Guy is not deterred. Despite the rolling, pitching and breakneck speed, he fires off round after round at the foes allowing the driver to do what he needs to do – drive the stagecoach to safety. Interestingly, Shotgun Guy is usually picked off before the stage reaches its destination. Like I said, it is not a job for the faint of heart.
This illness is Anthony’s stagecoach to drive; it is his life. He has to learn on his own how and when to snap the reigns to change the direction and speed of the horses so that he arrives safely at his destination. As much as I want to grab the reins I cannot. My job is to scan the horizon, read the shadows, look up, look down, look all around and shoot to kill anything that might threaten his safe arrival. I can teach him his rights as a patient, teach him how to ask questions, to say no and to self manage his care. I can teach him to surround and sustain himself with the energy and love of those true to him.This is all I can do.
As Anthony metaphorically begins to step out, letting go of my fingers one by one so that he can grab the reins, I listen to Spirit and take up my position – riding shotgun.