Painful Questions

I think we’ve stopped. I can’t believe we’re not moving. Is it rush hour traffic, an accident? Where are we? Why aren’t we moving?
“Streets flooded,” answers the young man who has been taking my pulse, asking me questions and trying to keep me calm.
And I know exactly where we are. It happens every time we get too much rain in too little time. We are on 75, close to the West Paces/Northside exit and the dad gummed drains are clogged and water is spilling onto the interstate. It takes all of my energy and focus to maintain my grasp on anything except the searing pain, but I do find myself wondering why in all these years someone hasn’t done something about those drains. Perhaps this is where I’ll die, on the way to the hospital, in a white ambulance, on a rainy night in Georgia.
I try begging the medical man once more for some pain meds, but he answers in his calm manner, “Sorry, can’t when it’s stomach pain.” Then he asks me something, the same three somethings that I remember answering before (even though, admittedly, I’m not very clear in the head right now).
“What’s your name? What’s your birthday? How’s your pain on a scale of 1-10?”
Name? Easy. Check that off. Birthday? Give me a minute. I have to moan, toss, breathe, writhe, moan some more, grunt out my birthdate, done.
But how is my pain level? Let me think, I knew you were going to ask me this. I conjure up the mental visual of the smiley face chart that they have in doctors offices and I remain completely stumped. I grab for an answer and mutter, “I don’t know,” which I promise you is not my voice at all, but my mothers.

“Excuse me?”
“I said, I sound like my mother.”
“And on a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your pain level?”
No wonder mom just says I don’t know all the time. I get it mom, I really do. Let’s see. There is having a baby pain. Is this as intense, or is it worse? Is having a baby a 10 or an 8? Pant, moan, gasp, moan, thrash. This is definitely worse than that! Or did I just forget what having a baby feels like? Man this hurts.
“Mam, can you tell me where it hurts the most?”
Okay, okay, I’m thinking. It hurts all over, like I am going to explode. But what if it’s nothing, like the time before when they tested for everything and found nothing? Maybe, I’m just a horrendous baby and they’ll say it’s just gas or something and I’ll be so embarrassed. But it can’t be. I’ve had three babies naturally and I just left home in an ambulance and scared my grand babies to death, lying there on the ground wrenching around and moaning. I would never frighten them like that unless I was having at least a pain 9 experience.
“Mam, what is your pain level on a scale of 1-10? ” Now, I begin to panic. I’ve got to pick a number. I want to say 10 but I’ve heard of pain so great that you black out and do I really want to know what a 10 is? Okay, okay, I choose 7 though I don’t know why. I hear the medical man say into his cell phone, “severe abdominal pain.” Great, I’ve communicated through this agonizing, pain-induced fog.
“May I please have some pain medicine?”
“No mam, not when it’s stomach pain.”
I finally get to the ER, see a doctor, receive some morphine (ah), have some tests, go to surgery, get knocked out, lose my appendix, wake up, go to a room for 6 hours, return home to recover. Post surgery, not one person has asked me the pain questions, but I have a sudden need to tell the world. “My name is Gwen Bullock, my birthday is November 10, 19?? And on a scale of 1-10 my pain level is zero. My gratitude is at another level, entirely. It is off the charts!

Can you read the signs?

I kept looking at the mosaic of interesting faces for signs, clues to help me categorize the people of this rich country.  I wanted to know which physical features differentiated Afrikaners from blacks, whites, or coloureds.  My untrained eye would pick out a face and my un-harnessed mouth would ask, “Is he a coloured?  Is she an Afrikaner?”  And, to my chagrin, I never once, got it right.

I saw a sign on a wall in a home which let me know that I was not the only one confused by this.  It delighted me during dinner conversation to learn that, “today, we are all South Africans.”


Later in the week I went hiking on Table Mountain.   I was busy packing selected images into memory storage, my visual file overloaded.  Nature was screaming, “Look at me, remember this,” when a sign on  a rock silenced me.  I thought of the people of South Africa and the great depth of their richness.  I recalled my brief and detached education of their history and struggle for equality.  I embraced a keener awareness of their ongoing challenges, not all that different from my own country’s.


Next, we hiked the trail at Cape Point.  We walked until we had to stop to catch our breath.  We walked close to the edge of steep cliffs.  I was grateful that it was not raining, the imagined slide down into the ocean or onto the rocks, nerve-wracking.  As one afraid of heights, I had to focus on the horizon to avoid becoming dizzy.  The path was bending and twisting around the most luscious vistas.  And suddenly we reached the end, the farthest point at the Cape of Good Hope.  Another sign.  Could this be the destiny of our journey as brothers?  In the end……………………


We won’t throw stones.

Her First Dance

 Content in Adolescence

Clarity in Adolescence

She is sitting quietly with her lanky legs tucked pretzel-like under her thighs.  She feels strangely alive, under a shade tree, waiting.  She knows not what she is waiting for but understands this pivotal moment is no respecter of time.

She is by herself but far from lonely.  She has made a necklace of buttercups and has un-ashamedly rocked and cuddled her doll.   She used to like to play Barbie, but this past Christmas had inexplicably asked for a doll that looked like a real baby.  She couldn’t share this with her best friend, for friends readily mock such childish playthings and have rapidly moved on to make-up, boys and push-up bras.

She sometimes wishes for a return to the days when she would spend the night with her friend and stay up late playing the ukulele and singing at the top of her lungs. It’s an unspoken, un-cool thing to do now, the ukulele succumbing to the stereo’s vinyl voices crying passionately for freedom and change.  Keeping up with this new world of rock music is confusing and causes anxiety, for she fears being laughed at should she like the wrong musician.

Instinctively, she stands up and stretches, reaching towards the heavens. She gazes upwards and whispers,” sky”, an image that she has never managed to reproduce with any or all of the colors in her deluxe box of Crayolas.  And there are clouds. Clouds that beckon her to play with ducks and rabbits or wander on sailing ships, airplanes and smoke from genie bottles.

She is aware of her body and the slight sour smell of her skin, fragrant from being outside most of the day.  She comes out from the shade and into the heat and she basks.  She loves how the sun feels.  It touches her all over and changes her.  “Sensual”, she thinks.

Suddenly, she laughs.  With her arms fully extended, and palms lifted upward she twirls, spinning slowly around in the wide open field. Her dance takes form, a dance peculiarly hers, and she owns it.   Her khaki shorts and sleeveless top turn into a red strap-less dress with  flowing skirt that opens  as she spins.  She is on tip toe and her hair is long and dark and splayed out, gently whipping the sides of her face.

Not unlike Goldilocks, trying out a stranger’s bed, she finds comfort.  Not too hard and not too soft.  This fits her and she would like to lie down and sleep.  She sees the blurry green leaves of the trees in the distance and the yellow dots of the flowers on the ground.  The music is coming up from the earth, beating exquisitely within her.  She considers that she is the only person who can hear this music.   She feels remarkably wild, free and  connected.  She wants to take it all within her and hold on.

But eventually,  she  tires.  Eventually, her dance slows and stops.  Breathless, she moves back into the shelter of the tree and wonders if life will ever be this clear again.  She is neither happy nor sad.  She is at peace.  She knows that she is exactly where she should be and that the person she is now is the perfect prelude to her future self.  She is aware that this moment is hers alone and a gift to and from her God.  She sits upon the ground breathing deeply with her arms hugging her calves and her cheek resting on her knees, and she waits.