A few days before Christmas Stan was cutting down a tree. This is a thing that I’ve seen him do many a time over the two plus years that I have known him, his wife Lynn, their son Erik, their grandson Alden and a host of other family members, friends, and co-workers. He has been working in the woods. Working with his hands. Working with saws and hammers and screw guns and pulleys and carts and tractors and any number of other tools and machines, the names of which I’ve never even known. He has been working with all of these things for over 60 years. But on this particular day the tree fell bad and wrong. Instead of totally falling away from Stan, who himself was walking in the opposite direction from its planned downward trajectory, a portion of the tree snapped back and began crashing towards him. It did not just crash towards him. It crashed towards him and it hit him from great height and with great speed and velocity. It crashed down on him, walloping him greatly in the head and body, breaking or fracturing a number of vertebrae and rendering him wholly unconscious. I was not there that day and would not be on the farm for nearly two weeks after that event.
During the time when I knew this had happened, but was not there to see Stan, Lynn, Erik or so many others who love Stan, I worried. I was not particularly pleasant to be around, so engrossed was I in thinking many parallel thoughts. I thought about who Stan is. I thought about what Stan does. I thought about his relationships with his family and friends. I thought about what gives him much joy, and how the joy he possesses he is always willing to share. I googled information about the specific prognoses and outcomes of injuries similar to his and a heaviness fell on my proverbial heart. I thought about the big and little things he does to keep this place running. I thought about his making breakfast for Alden almost every school morning. I thought about how there was no object or device that he couldn’t create to meet a need Lynn had, whether modifying Gatorade coolers so they have better on/off spouts to building nearly every single structure one could see on the farm. I thought of his love of beer and ping pong and the way he could make almost any activity more fun, simply because he was a part of it. I thought about his creativity and imagination. I thought about the oh so familiar vision of him ambling along with a cart full of wood scraps, beer in hand, occasional throat clearing cough. I thought of his puns and his voice and his humor and his immense affability. I thought of his love of the outdoors, of working with his hands, of introducing me (and so many others) to the many wonders of this plot of land and sea. Of him crabbing and sawing and laughing and being. Of him on the stratolounger, soaking up sun and taking a nap with at least one dog or friend.
I haven’t been back even a week, and the number of people who reflect or verbalize many of my thoughts back to me is already many. I truly believe that if you are a person who meets Stan and doesn’t love him, there is something wrong with you. I don’t care who you are. And so, here we are. Luckily, the world still has Stan in it. But he is in the hospital. He is in the hospital with a serious injury that may or may not allow him to make a full recovery. It is likely, at least in the next months, if not longer, that he will be in a wheel chair. I have lived and worked with Stan and his family for nearly two years. I am an employee and, I would like to think, a friend. I’ve had the sad task of touching base with some people who either hadn’t heard about the accident, or were unclear about the extent of Stan’s injuries. And I see such sorrow in their eyes. A welling of pain and sympathy they direct at me, so I can then somehow give it to Stan and Lynn and Erik and Alden and so many others. It is a terrible thing. An unthinkable thing. The full impact of which is almost impossible to see this soon after an event that will forever make us all think in terms of “BEFORE” and “AFTER.” But when I look into the eyes of these many friends or acquaintances, processing the information for the first time, I somehow wish to quell their sorrow by association (not to mention my own and, far more importantly, Stan and his family). I somehow wish to make them see that Stan and all of us around him are made of strong stuff. That while this is nearly the worst possible thing that could have happened, we still have the man, and while so many things will have to be changed or adjusted…raged at and wept at…I want them (and really me too) not to think of all that is lost, but of all we have already had and all we can yet have in relation to Stan.
I hate phrases like ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’ or ‘when a door closes and window opens.’ I hate phrases like this because it denies the grief or loss or reality of whatever the hard, difficult, bad thing is. It insists that we can only consider the upside, the silver lining. I hate these phrases, but I do believe in carrying on. In doing what you can with whatever you are given, good or bad. One cannot make the best out of a situation that flat out sucks. But one can move forward, persevere and not let the terribleness trump the goodness. I am probably seeming a bit contradictory here, and I am fine with that. Because I am heartbroken by what has happened. I do not want to accept that life for Stan – as far as mobility is concerned – may never be the same. But I also believe in him. I believe in his spirit and his humor and his kindness and his stubbornness and his resilience. I believe in the possibility for him and us to find a way to ensure that he is not diminished, even if new limitations are impossible to avoid.