Saturday, September 4, 2010

On Mistakes and Magic Markers

When I was very young -- like, say, four or five years old -- my mother decided to have a very special chair reupholstered and placed in my bedroom. The reason this chair was special is that it had been my mother's childhood chair -- a beautiful mini-armchair that my mother chose to cover in bright pastel stripes appropriate for her little girl. I still remember the chair pretty vividly even now, which is a testament to how much I liked that single piece of furniture since the rest of my bedroom has grown a bit hazy over time.

On the day the newly covered chair was delivered to our house, my parents hosted a small dinner party. At some point during the evening I was alone in my room, either because I had been told to play quietly or possibly because I was supposed to be sleeping. Either way, I was alone. With the chair. And apparently also with a contraband black permanent marker, most likely filched from the kitchen counter with a stealth that would have made a professional burglar jealous. Cue the scary music because I think we all know what happened next.

My father eventually came to check on his sleeping angel, as parents tend to do. And when he found me I was apparently in the throes of artistic inspiration -- gleefully covering my new chair with dark blots in random patterns a la some deranged Jackson Pollack, or perhaps a paint-by-numbers gone horribly, horribly wrong. In either case, my mother was summoned to the room to inspect my masterpiece, whereupon she immediately burst into tears that, surprisingly enough, did not appear to be tears of joy at my brilliance. And I believe that was when my father turned to me, a stern look on his face, and asked me a version of the same question that parents have been asking their kids ever since Adam and Eve looked around and saw that the garden was a complete pigsty:

"Why, Piper? Why would you color all over your mother's chair with black marker?"

And tiny me, without hesitation, answered simply:

"Because I prefer darker colors."

I've been told this story about a million times. According to my mother, this was the point at which my father burst out laughing and I managed to get off with virtually no punishment, despite the fact that the chair had to be sent back to the shop for another reupholstering. In my dad's version, this was the moment at which he knew I would one day go to law school. My sister uses this story to prove that her childhood antics (which once included signing her name in paint all over the house and trying to blame the sleeping infant me for the damage) were nothing compared to mine. And my godmother likes to tell the story just because it makes her smile to think of my sister and me at that age. But whatever the motive, it's definitely become part of the Beatty family folklore.

My interpretation of this story is a little different. I see in it two things: 1) the fact that I tend to think things through before I do them (because I doubt my young self would have been able to come up with such a logical excuse on the fly had it not been my true motivation), and 2) just because something makes sense in my head, that doesn't always make it the right thing to do.

It's just too bad I haven't always been able to channel this lesson in my own life, right?

I've noticed lately that post-transplant living is nothing so much as one great big balancing act. The wire is wobbly and the stakes are high -- a single misstep, however good the intentions behind the act, could spell disaster. At the same time, perfection is pretty much impossible. The job itself is complicated. Mistakes will be made. And while standing straight and still in the middle of the wire might be the safest approach in terms of not falling, it will also mean that you never perform the trick you set out to master. That ultimate trick of living your life with grace, gratitude, and maybe even a little bit of style if you're lucky.

There are a few events that sparked this realization, but honestly I don't want to get into them here. Because the events themselves, although they seemed like huge deals to me at the time, were really just a drop in the bucket. The bigger issue, for me at least, is the reality that I have to find a way to live with these things -- with immuno-suppression and side effects and awkward conversations and, yes, mistakes. Like it or not, these are all part of my life now. They're here, and they're not going anywhere anytime soon, if ever. And it's 100% up to me to learn how to identify risks, how to be wary of the danger without standing still altogether, and how to both accept the mistakes I do make and correct them in the future. I have to be both my harshest critic and able to forgive myself in order to move on. And that, my friends, isn't always easy.

So I guess I find myself back in front of the chair, and once again holding that proverbial marker in my hand. Only this time, instead of just asking what I want, I have to ask what is best for all involved: who will I hurt, what will this cost me and my family, is there perhaps someone more knowledgeable on the subject of furniture upholstery that I should consult before making this decision, will I be sad if things don't turn out the way that I expect, can the damage be undone? These are just a few of the questions I want to ask my tiny childhood self. And at the same time, I hope I can maintain the courage to still nourish that inner artist (however misguided she might have been -- I mean, seriously, a black sharpie??) and give her space to continue living and expressing and creating and thinking and playing. Just, you know, preferably on a more appropriate canvas.

So thanks to God, my doctors, and my donor for the chance to make even more mistakes in my life. And a long-overdue thanks to my amazing mom for the beautiful chair.


  1. I love the way your write - i'm sure I've said that before, but I REALLY DO! I could see you in front of the chair :)

    Praying for you - that your balancing act will become easier over time and with practice :)

  2. Beautifully written, Piper! I know you've been stressed this past week. We can't be perfect...we can only do the best we can. Thinking about you <3

  3. beautifully said, gratefully read

  4. Billy colored all over the face of my Baby-Alive with a big fat black crayon. Then he stuffed it into her mouth and broke it off so that it could never be removed. After this horrific attack on my Baby, he carefully laid her in the doll crib and covered her with a blanket. Somehow, I don't think he can use artistic license to explain that story away. Loved hearing about little you and reading your adult reflections.

  5. Thanks for this post, Piper. As I prepare to go home Tues or Wed., I am getting ready to take the plunge and suspect that, like you, I will have difficulty balancing my desire for my life to just go back to "NORMAL" with the fact that post-transplant is my life now.

    I would love to know what the awkward convos were about, if you'd ever want to share on email. I wonder what my future holds!!

  6. Piper, Your story about the chair reminder me of a friend who had just moved into a brand new house. Her husband was measuring and marking the walls to hang shelves. Well their 2 and 4 year olds were watching Daddy draw on the walls. I'll let you guess what happened next! LOL.

    Learning to forgive oneself is something I struggle with. That and saying no, refusing to take on too much. If you come up with any more musings on the subject, I'd love to read about it. :)

  7. I think i remember that chair :) And you have always been deliberate in your actions. i have no doubt that you will consider each of your choices and the side effects they will have.

  8. Hey Piper, you are a true inspiration. Here is my blog about my life with CF: