Rest and Be Thankful

A few hundred miles south of where we live there is a place called ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ which is at the top of a long, difficult hill. I first became aware of it when hearing winter traffic reports after I’d moved to Scotland. “The road has been closed at Rest and Be Thankful,” the newsreader would say, citing slippery conditions or accidents (or both). While I’m not likely to ever go see it for myself I have long been taken with the name, given to that spot centuries ago. Whether by horse-and-carriage in days of old or in the modern cars of today, I can well imagine taking a moment to ‘rest and be thankful’ having reached the top in wintry weather. (History and information regarding Rest and Be Thankful for those who might be interested can be found here.)

Over the last week or so that spot has been the jumping-off point (so to speak) for my thoughts on this article. It’s less than a week before Thanksgiving as I write this on a cold, blustery Highland afternoon. Dinner is simmering fragrantly on the stove, my husband is listening to music while working on some fountain pens, and I am thinking about gratitude and relief in more ways than arduous treks up long, steep hills.

As is often the case this time of year I’ve noticed friends online writing about gratitude, and I’m no different even though Thanksgiving isn’t a ‘thing’ here in the UK. It is the holiday I miss the most as an ex-pat, and for the past few years we haven’t been able to celebrate it the way we could before, in our beloved former village. Yet that brings me to my first moment of thankfulness, in today’s reflection. Three short years ago we were still traveling about a thousand miles a month in all weathers from our village to the far north and back again for my husband’s hemodialysis sessions. At that point we were still a month away from finding out about our home-to-be in Wick and even then, it would be a further three months before we could move in. But here we are, now, less than five minutes away from dialysis. No more lost sleep over bad conditions in the forecast, no more treacherous commutes on dark, slippery roads. I am very thankful for that!

In a more recent oh-thank-goodness development related to our home, we finally have peace and quiet here, albeit temporarily. I have long meant to write about Them Upstairs – our loud, violent, inconsiderate, thuggish upstairs neighbors. Living below them has been torment. The constant heavy-footed clomping of ‘Him Upstairs’ and the never-ending arguments (which often turned into full-blown screaming matches with a side order of furniture-throwing), their dog howling, their baby grizzling and whimpering… The ever-present noise and uproar were unbearable. Mind you, I didn’t mind the baby as much, since that’s just what babies do. What I did mind was Him Upstairs bellowing “Waaah! Waaah! Waaah!” in the baby’s face like some kind of deranged howler monkey in what was, oddly enough, his idea of ‘comforting’ the poor thing.

My husband started an entire series of these, lampooning ‘Them Upstairs’.

Them Upstairs were pretty rotten in other ways, too. They liked parking within two inches of our car, once or twice nearly blocking us in completely. They smoked in the common hallway or just outside the outer doors, and their dog regularly dribbled all the way down the staircase because they always waited too long before taking it outside for a pee. Do I even need to tell you that they never cleaned it up? Their gravelled back yard (which is two feet from our bedroom window) is filled with piles of stinking dog mess and rampant weeds which infiltrated the fence through to our yard. Their ground is littered with car parts, rubbish, items that were flung out the window by Her Upstairs in a fit of pique, and one broom-head that was there before we moved in (and remains there to this day). He’s a dangerous brute who has a starring role in the ‘police blotter’ in the local newspaper now and then. She is an unstable harridan who has already had one child, a lovely wee ten-year-old boy, taken from her by Social Services. In continuing Mother of the Year behavior, she has smoked continually through both of her following pregnancies, proudly displaying her ‘baby bump’ while standing by the car taking one last drag before setting off. Yep, The Upstairses have now had two babies in the space of two years, and it’s the kids I pity the most because they’ve got no chance of a decent upbringing. I feel bad for the dog, too.

So why am I thankful? Because, thank all the Neighbor Gods, they are gone! At the beginning of October they did a ‘moonlight flit’ as they call it here. It was all a bit furtive. For two days a grumpy old guy with a van stood around smoking while appliances and furniture were hauled out, and I hardly dared hope it was actually coming to an end. But it has! Them Upstairs appeared a few more times over the following weeks, grabbing armloads of belongings before roaring off into the night only to sneak back a week or so later, parking on the sidewalk with the motor running for a quick getaway. Everyone is relieved, both in our building and the next one over. When our across-the-hall neighbor asked me about it I said we were pretty sure that they were truly gone. His face lit up and he raised his fist in the air, shouting, “YES! That’s the best news! You have made my day!” I had to laugh when he added, “If I’m this happy to hear it, I can only imagine how you and Sem feel!” You’re so right, lovely neighbor!

The silence has been bliss; I didn’t really realize how bad the constant noise was, both low-level and high-volume, until they were gone. The relief of being out from under their drama is enormous. No more cigarette butts dropped into our planters! No more police or random strangers knocking on our door asking about them! No more screaming and stomping! Eventually we’ll have new Upstairses but I fervently hope that they will be considerate, quiet, nice Upstairses, who might even clean up that back yard a bit. In the interim, I am enjoying the peace. I feel like I can finally breathe and rest easy. Talk about a reason to be thankful!

In yet more gratitude, as ever I am thankful for my Sem; for his presence in my life and for his tenacity in trying hard to keep on living. It’s been a very difficult spring, summer and autumn, with far too many nights during which Sem thought he might not see the morning – and he is not one to be melodramatic, so I do not say that lightly. We have the misfortune of having to deal with consultants who seem to have no intention of actually treating patients or even communicating with them. It would be an entire column on its own if I tried to detail all the ways we have been let down by nearly every doctor we’ve come into contact with, so I won’t even try. But imagine you are drowning, and there are several lifeguards all around the water, not saving you. Instead they stand there, some ignoring you completely no matter how loud you shout, others scratching their heads and shrugging, telling you that maybe you should try swimming rather than drowning while they hold life preservers but never throw them towards you or even acknowledge that you need one. That’s what it’s been like, especially recently.

Why, then, am I thankful? In this case I am thankful firstly that Sem has survived these months, but I’m also enormously grateful for a couple of friends who researched one of the main issues he has had after each dialysis session this last while. My friends were successful where I was not, in their research. They found a possible reason – and equally importantly a possible solution – for Sem’s life-threatening struggles. Of course when we presented the nephrologist with the relevant medical papers he was somewhat dismissive, but to his credit he authorized a change in Sem’s treatment anyway (while telling us politely why our findings were wrong). I wasn’t surprised at all when Sem noticed a positive difference from that very first changed treatment, though. We’ve been here before: I give the neph a medical paper or some research about a strange or obscure thing that Sem is experiencing. The neph, clearly wanting to dismiss it, at least gives it a read-through, then (sometimes grudgingly) makes a change to Sem’s treatment or medication as a result. Lo and behold, things get better in ways that cannot be denied even by the skeptical doctor, who really should know better by now because I have never brought him anything that wasn’t backed up by actual medical research and logic! He has many patients, but I have only one Sem: I will always try my hardest to find sensible solutions to the problems that crop up, since no one else seems to… other than my lovely friends, in this latest instance, who have helped so much!

The outcome of this latest Deb vs. Doctors skirmish has literally been a case of ‘rest and be thankful’ because for one, Sem and I have actually been able to go to bed by around 2am on dialysis nights now, rather than 5am or 7am, due to a slight improvement in his breathing as a result of all of this… and secondly, if you’ve ever spent ten or eleven hours wondering how (and if) you were going to draw your next breath, then you will understand what there is to be thankful for, after the sheer hell of these past months. The overall problem has not been entirely resolved, not even close. But it has been eased a little bit for my Sem and for that, I am very grateful. Having friends who care enough to do some research on their own out of kindness and concern, and having a nephrologist who at least unbends a little bit, are reasons to be thankful, too.

We’ve had a handful of hills to climb as you can tell, step by increasingly exhausted step, before being able to pause at the top and take a look around, grateful for a moment of calm. But we don’t get to stay up there savoring the view for long, do we? I laughed when I read the following, from the link at the beginning of this article: “John Keats came north in 1818 on a walking tour with his friend, the writer Charles Brown. Keats’ terse diary entries tell the tale of their encounter with the Rest. ‘We were up at four this morning and have walked to breakfast 15 miles through two tremendous Glens – at the end of the first there was a place called rest and be thankful which we took for an inn – it was nothing but a stone and so we were cheated into five more miles to breakfast’.”

If that’s not a metaphor for life I don’t know what is. Still, I hope that this Thanksgiving we all have reasons to be thankful, and some peaceful moments during which we can reflect upon them. Hopefully even the most daunting of climbs will reach a plateau where we can rest awhile before plunging onward once again. I gather those moments up in my heart and cherish them, putting the burdens down for a little while and taking respite as I look out over the vista that is our life together.

The paths are steep, but the views are glorious. I am thankful.

Deb Segelitz
Deb Segelitz was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and is astounded to find herself living in the Scottish Highlands, sharing life with her husband, a Highlander she stumbled across purely by chance on a blog site. They own a small business restoring and selling vintage fountain pens, which allows Deb to set her own schedule and have time for photography, writing and spontaneous car rides in the countryside. She is grateful to the readers of ANC for accepting her into the North State fold.
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32 Responses

  1. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    Deb, I am glad you and Sem are doing better. Your tales are very interesting in that they parallel mine so much. My wife had to have 24/7 oxygen in Wyoming due to the high altitude. We hated moving to Phoenix, leaving a wide open state of 700,000 to a city of 4 million. But my wife doesn’t need oxygen down here and with a wider choice of doctors, did some changes, found good ones who have taken excellent care of her and I. An added benefit is the heat has done wonders for my arthritis.
    So as I give thanks for our situation, almost the whole family will be here except our daughter and son-in-law in Wyoming due to their dog in heat(another story), I will give thanks not just for your improving situation but for the wonderful articles about the country my mother’s relatives came from.

  2. Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

    I admit, this one got to me for a variety of reasons. Following your struggles from afar and being powerless to help, I’m profoundly thankful you finally have some peace from Them Upstairs (which you richly deserve) and that the almost-too-good-to-be-true information about Sem’s treatment actually helped him.
    I know I speak for so many of us here when I say I’m also thankful that you’re a part of this community and share your corner of the world with us. The stories, the photos, the lore, the sheer beautiful words crafted onto the screen enrich us beyond measure.
    Happy thanksgiving to you both, my friend. MWAH!

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thank you, Matt! It’s been a difficult week this week and post-dialysis nights have not gone well, but we’re still alive and kickin’ and that’s what matters.

      I’m really thankful to be able to be here at ANC in this lovely community! As I said to Doni, without ANC I would have no ‘voice’ and I am grateful to be able to share stories with everyone here. I’m glad you all enjoy them.

      Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, from your far-flung Honorary Grigsby Sistah (that’s right, I’m claiming it and owning it!)… MWAH!

    • Avatar Peggy Elwood says:

      What Matt said! This one brought me to tears. I used to think things would be OK after a particular problem was resolved…now I try to enjoy the respite between challenges. And the doctors…I sure get that part. Thanks for sharing your journeys on ANC.

      • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

        Thanks, Peggy! I’m sorry you know about the doctor-situation all too well. Here’s to respites, and enjoying them as much as we can.

  3. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Dear Deb, you’ve done it yet again – made my AM reading worthwhile. My first thought about your and Sem’s hurdles was, “Can’t you move back to the States and find excellent doctors at Stanford or Mayo?” Probably not or you would have done so already. A friend from Eastern County now has a second home in Redding about three minutes from the dialysis center where he has treatments three days a week. You and Sem could come to Redding, find a good doctor, rent my single-story, quiet, second home which is five minutes from the center, be among your ANC friends, and clink glasses together frequently.

    You and Sem are in my thoughts this Thanksgiving day and every day.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      You’re lovely, Beverly, thank you for your kind comment. Much as I would love to get great quality healthcare in the States, there’s no way we could get good enough health insurance to cover the more-than-two-dozen meds Sem takes daily, or all the treatments he needs for his handful of lung issues, or the pain management he’s been on for 30+ years. It’s just not a viable option.

      There’s great healthcare to be had in Edinburgh or other large cities here, but the Highlands have always been Sem’s heart-home, and while he was living in the south he always wanted to be back up north. We – Sem especially – sacrifice a lot, living up here, but it means the world to him to be here and so here we are.

      Wishing you a lovely Thanksgiving!

  4. Avatar Sue Keller says:

    My breath is taken away reading about Sem’s struggles after dialysis and the frustration infused in both of you. Yes, thankful to friends for their research; the doctor for his ‘slight’ openness – thank God!
    The departure of those ‘upstairses’ — Thank you, thank you Universe!!!! May the Universe protect and guard their children – HUGE job!
    Your writing warms my soul and delights my heart, Deb. Thank you so much.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I’m glad you enjoy my writing, Sue, thank you for telling me! There are lots of reasons to be thankful – here’s hoping next Thanksgiving I’m writing about how thankful I am for having great upstairs neighbors, eh?

      • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

        Ugh. Out here in the country, rather than the Upstairses, we had the Nextdoorer—a tweaker who made life hell for an awful couple of years. Most of his misbehaviors were purposefully aimed at annoying his neighbors, including opening up the throttle of his Harley when he’d come home at 2:00 A.M., playing death metal at volumes that rattled our windows and walls late into the night, and regularly shooting a 44 magnum hand cannon at sunrise on weekend mornings. Probably not meant to purposefully annoy others, he beat his dog in his garage for an hour at a stretch each evening for a week or so until it suddenly stopped.

        The Sheriff’s Office responded to repeated complaints in a manner that made me wonder why we even have a f***ing Sheriff’s Office. Nextdoorer is the only person I’ve ever encountered who made me feel truly murderous—like, if I were to make him disappear I’d be doing the world a favor and the Christian God, if He existed, wouldn’t forgive me on judgment day, because no sin had been committed.

        I think if I’d been tending to a family member who was gravely ill during that time……well, you know…..last straw.

        • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

          That’s so awful, Steve, what a rotten waste of breath that guy was! I’d think a bit of time in a locked garage with some animal lovers (with baseball bats) might have cured him of his idea of proper treatment of a dog.

          Bad neighbors can make life such hell. It’s not just their loudness/inconsiderateness/deliberate antagonism, either. It’s feeling helplessly trapped by the situation, especially when authorities/landlords won’t do anything to help. It is demoralizing.

        • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

          You showed amazing restraint. A dog being beaten? Easy to say from this distance, but I think I would have rounded up every neighbor who owned a firearm and formed a posse, all wearing Kevlar.

  5. Avatar Erika Kilborn says:

    I admit to being more than a little sniffly after reading this, but in the best possible way. I fervently wish that you and Sem could have joined us for Thanksgiving yesterday. I was thinking of you both and tonight, when the day winds down, I will raise a glass of good wine to the health and well-being of both of you.

  6. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    I’m so happy that your reprobate neighbors are gone, Deb. With all of the tribulations you and Sem go through with his health, it’s struck me as doubly cruel that those butt-wipes have eroded the quality of your home as a sanctuary. Here’s hoping that your future upstairs neighbors do little but listen to music–with headphones.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thank you, Hal! They certainly made an already difficult situation far worse. We are so glad they are gone. I share your hopes for GOOD upstairs neighbors!

      • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

        Too bad you don’t have a homeowners association. Those miscreants would have been forced out post haste.

        • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

          Considering we all signed leases that basically say “don’t be a jerk neighbor,” you’d think the landlord would have done something when we complained. They didn’t even acknowledge our letter, let alone have a word with The Upstairses, so, there was no help on that front. Frustrating!

          I used to work with HOAs… oh, the rules, the many rules! And the complaints. “There are mosquitoes in my back yard.” Uh… and I should do what, about it?

  7. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    A lesson in thankfulness. . . . and perseverance . . . and fight . . . . and strength . . . . and yes, even patience!
    A very deep thank you for sharing your corner of the world with us.
    As for me, I keep thinking of the Minnie Pearl greeting: “I’m jest s’proud to be here!” TRULY!

  8. Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

    Deb, you have such a wonderful writing gift. Your stories always touch my heart.

    Thank you for reminding us that even in the midst of such tribulation, you can find a reason to be thankful. Sending love to you and Sem, with my deepest gratitude for his improvement, even a slight one, on his dialysis days, and hugest thanks for Them Upstairs to be gone. Hallelujah!

    Happy belated Thanksgiving from me and mine to our wonderful Deb and Sem in the Highlands.

  9. Jon Lewis Jon Lewis says:

    Sorry to learn that crappy neighbor syndrome is not limited to the states but glad those barbarians are out of your hair. Thanks for a thoughtful Thanksgiving message and all the best to you and your Sem!

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thanks, Jon, I’m glad they are gone too – there are bad neighbors the world over, for sure! Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving!

  10. Oh, Deb. I am so grateful for YOU!
    I read your posts and marvel at how you do it … all of it. But you do, and you write about it, and you share your life with us – the good times and the hard times.

    You are so eloquent, and I am stunned by how beautifully you can express yourself, even the worst of times are pure poetry, like this paragraph:

    “…But imagine you are drowning, and there are several lifeguards all around the water, not saving you. Instead they stand there, some ignoring you completely no matter how loud you shout, others scratching their heads and shrugging, telling you that maybe you should try swimming rather than drowning while they hold life preservers but never throw them towards you or even acknowledge that you need one . ..”

    Chilling, but perfectly said. And then, if it weren’t enough that you’re a stellar writer, along come your photos.

    Today’s piece was a reminder about life’s difficult times; the restful times and the restful places. I thank you for that. It always bears repeating, especially during the tough times.

    And your Sem. I swear his series could be a comic strip. (I know just the place to publish them.)

    I’m grateful for you both.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thank you, Doni! I’m so glad you enjoy my writing and photos, and that you tell me, always. You are the best cheerleader and your encouragement always fills me with big happies!

      Publishing Sem’s series would be hilarious – I am very interested in that, and need to know more, please!

      So grateful for you, Doni – your support, your encouragement, your friendship, and the fact that I can camp out here at ANC and have such a wonderful time writing and interacting with everyone. You and ANC give my ‘voice’ a place to be heard… that is priceless!

  11. Avatar Eleanor Townsend says:

    Dear Deb, As I have said before now, it (too often) has taken me a while to respond to your articles, and that’s because they always affect me greatly, and they contain so many ‘moving parts’!

    What struck my heart the most (though many things did) was your response to a comment: “the Highlands have always been Sem’s heart-home”, and “….means the world to him to be here.” Ah yes, I get that, and for all that both of you go through every day, you are ‘home.’ My Scottish parents used to say ‘oor ain hame’, and it was very telling, more especially when they had to move from Scotland to the South of England, for economic reasons, with me, the seventh child, just one year old. And my mother never having left Scotland, nor ever expecting to. They were always Scots in their hearts, visiting their ‘ain hame’ once a year with all of us in the back of the car!
    Well, we all have our stories to tell, but yours strikes close to my heart, and the love you and Sem have for each other is a wondrous thing.
    Long may you also love your ain hame, with good neighbors!

    So many people here thinking of you; thank you for including us in your lives.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      What a lovely comment, Eleanor, thank you! You paint such a picture of your parents going back ‘hame’ once a year with all of you in the back of the car. So many of the people I’ve met here love this place so much, and even if they must leave to find work or for whatever reason, they often find their way back, either to visit or to eventually stay.

      If we had the choice, we would both move back to our former village in a heartbeat. But up here, farther north and closer to where Sem grew up, he finds he is very comfortable as well. He didn’t have a happy childhood but this place and these people, well, he understands them. When he speaks to the locals his Caithness dialect broadens, and there’s a different sort of sparkle in his eyes. He definitely never wants to live in his childhood town ever again – too many bad memories – but being up in the far north has brought him full circle to a place he understands, and people who he so easily relates to. They are all ridiculously interconnected and he hardly meets anyone whose ‘people’ he doesn’t know, or at least know of, up here.

      There is a porter at the hospital where he has his dialysis treatments who Sem knew of old, back when they were pre-teens and teenagers. More than 50 years had passed when they saw each other again, a couple of years ago, and they instantly knew each other. Hamish stops by to see him during treatment every now and then, and last week when the weather was stormy he offered him a ride home. I was already on the way to pick him up, so he declined with thanks, but it was nice of Hamish to offer. I think there is no smaller world than the Highlands of Scotland, and that is a lovely thing.

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