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.
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.