Like many teenage girls, our oldest daughter - all our daughters - earned money through childcare, or babysitting as it was known then. Anna was particularly popular with kids and parents alike because she brought her artistic flair to the job. She has sung like an angel as long as she has spoken and cannot even carry on a conversation without at least humming the punctuation. Those of us less musical in the family had to learn that this girl could engage in coherent conversation AND pay attention to our words while singing. We might have been the only family that had a rule of NO SINGING AT THE TABLE. Anna also had a love for drama, starting, in early adolescence, a small theatre group for local children. These kids met in our basement on Saturday mornings and rehearsed plays they had "written" themselves to be performed as fundraisers later in the season. All was directed by Anna who cleverly managed to bring out the latent talents in these kids. The shows were comedic, sometimes farcical, with a splash of music. Even very young siblings, whose only talent might be an ability to burp on command, were put to work in a comedy sketch. Adults had no involvement in this project, the kids taking care of every single aspect of the production even down to booking a venue and choosing the charity they wanted to support. The oldest in the group was always Director Anna who retired from this project at the ripe old age of 13 or 14.
Others in the community got wind of this talent and occasionally Anna would get a request for something a little different. One such job was to appear at a twelve-year-old girl's birthday party as a fortune-teller and read the palms of a gaggle of girls. Knowing nothing about palmistry, Anna visited the library and immersed herself in the subject, using the rest of us as her guinea pigs. The day of the party she donned a flowing skirt, gypsy scarf and hoop earrings to round out the role. She was so convincing that what was to be only a small aspect of the birthday party became the main event, with girls clamouring to have their fortunes told. Anna was careful to keep her prophesies positive and general.
As her test subjects, we were compliant, though perhaps not her little brother who couldn't sit still for anything at the time. I have no memory of my own fortune, but one person's stood out. This was not long after Michael had been diagnosed in 1994 with Parkinson's disease, and of all the children, Anna, as a young teenager, was old enough to understand something of the challenges ahead with this disease and was terribly afraid for her daddy. Michael's palm was subjected to her scrutiny along with the rest of us. I remember her showing me Daddy's lifeline and telling us, grasping at anything to reassure herself, that his was a particularly long and strong one, that he would enjoy longevity and a vibrant and productive life.
These memories all came flooding back yesterday after returning home from a meeting at the bank. I had arranged the visit because, though I have managed the family's finances for years now, I realized I had never sat down with anyone to look at the global picture, to make sure there will be no nasty surprises if Michael leaves me suddenly in the near future. I came away reassured and confident that our financial lifeline is at least strong and unfrayed. At the meeting, the consultant asked if I had any idea what Michael's life expectancy is, how long his lifeline might be. I admitted that, to the best of my knowledge, he could live a day or a decade; I need to be prepared for both. It was when I relayed this conversation to our caregiver, she reminded me that his lifeline is long and strong; we might be talking years if there's any truth to this practice.
I don't put any stock in palmistry myself. I do believe our hands, indeed our bodies, have much to tell us about our state of being and who we are, but I think if palmistry had any real relevance we'd have solved a lot of life's mysteries by now. I like to look at the lifeline as something more symbolic, perhaps a metaphor for the strength of one's life force, how one faces the challenges in one's life. No one can argue that Michael's own force hasn't been strong and resilient, no matter how long he might live with this devastating disease.
It got me thinking about other lifelines. My mother-in-law uses a service actually called Lifeline. She wears a gadget around her neck that she simply presses if she finds herself in distress in her own home. She is immediately linked to an operator who assesses her situation and sends out the appropriate emergency teams, if necessary. Now that she is back in her own home, it is a critical link for her and allows her, and her anxious family, to have a modicum of confidence and security.
This lifeline of hers uses the technology at hand to keep her connected. I too rely on the wonders of the modern world to lessen my sense of isolation. The computer, the telephone and my cellphone are my only lifelines to the outside world some days, and to some degree the radio and the television, though they lack the interaction I often crave. A very satisfying day is one where some or all of my children have checked in and many friends too. I am blessed to have such strong lifelines of communication with so many.
I believe Michael's link to this world is strengthened by his recent embracing of a spiritual life. Nightly prayers give him solace and, most nights now, allow him a smooth transition into the dream world. When in a state of extreme anxiety, the chanting of a certain prayer is like a life preserver for him. Many a night after I have left him I can hear him muttering the chant through the monitor until I hear the steady breathing indicating sleep. His lifeline to the spiritual world is intact, strengthening day by day.
I peered at my own palm this morning. I know nothing of palmistry but was musing about what mine might tell me. My lifeline is strong and long but there is another line that merges with it and becomes one with my own. I like to think of it as Michael's blending with mine, our journey in this world inextricably linked.