One of my favorite parts of “The Lord Of The Rings” has always been the scene in Part One where the hobbit Frodo wakes up to find himself safe and sound in an impossibly comfortable, pillow-covered bed after many days of unconsciousness following a series of harrowing adventures that left him wounded and nearly dead. Frodo is resting in the House of Elrond, located in the secure oasis of Rivendell, home of the Elven-wise lords from beyond the furthest seas. “They do not fear the Ringwraiths,” his ancient wizard friend Gandalf tells him from the bedside. “For those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm live at once in both worlds, and against both the Seen and the Unseen they have great power.”
When I got home from the hospital a couple of days after my July 26 brain surgery, I felt just like Frodo must have felt at that very moment of awakening. I was in my own house, completely under the protection of my siblings. That wonderful feeling of security and being taken care of at a time of weakness was due entirely to the efforts and attentions of my two brothers and two sisters, who had flown in from all over the country; leaving their own families to come to my side. Kathleen, Tim, Brian and Ellen came to Orlando, respectively, from Las Vegas, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Los Angeles to help me out. And each of them did their part in their own distinctive way. My oldest sister Kathleen (who is convinced she was an Irish charwoman in a previous life) immediately set to work getting my house in order; running back and forth to the grocery store to make sure my fridge and pantry were well-stocked with all the goods I’d need to regain my strength. She even entirely reorganized my laundry room and linen closet, classic Saturday-afternoon projects that I had perennially ranked behind more important tasks such as ‘Take Nap” and “Drink A Beer” since the day I’d moved into my house in 1999. Kathleen was horrified one day when a full bottle of olive oil slipped out of a grocery bag she was carrying and shattered on my kitchen floor. She was making arrangements to hire a steam-cleaning company to come over and clean up the mess even after she had already mopped it up with paper towels to a degree that was infinitely beyond my satisfaction. I told her don’t bother with the professional cleaners, and after much insistence she finally backed off. Brian is also very task-oriented. He did a bunch of chores around the house, put himself in charge of planning and grilling tasty family meals, and he ran errands like going to Target to buy an upgraded electric shaver so he could give me a nice buzz cut. Tim walked my two dogs, helped cook and clean and also kept track of television schedules so we could make sure we were tuning in only the most interesting and relevant baseball games (translation: The Cardinals) at any given moment. Ellen, my baby sister, is a very gentle and spiritual person. She hung up colorful Buddhist prayer flags from one ceiling fan and made sure the general energy level in the house was always most conducive to rest. Sometimes that meant telling the boys to pipe down. I also asked Ellen to go out and choose bandanas for me to wear to cover up my surgery scar, because I knew she’d get the coolest ones.
There is so much that is enriching about traditional family gatherings that involve spouses, kids, various aunts and uncles from older and younger generations. But this unplanned reunion under not-so-great circumstances was something special, too. As I rested in my room for another day or so coming in and out of sleep, I would often hear the murmur of their voices from the front room as they talked about this or that. It reminded me of when I was a kid listening to late-night conversations reverberate through the wall of my childhood bedroom, which was directly adjacent to the family room of our house on Westport Road in Independence, Mo. It was like going back through time. Now it was just us five kids again. Brothers and sisters in a Blessed Realm.
I hate to think about all the anxiety my current medical situation must be causing them. We all love each other so much. I think it would almost be worse to be in their position than it is to be in mine. So I guess in a twisted way that makes me selfish when I say if any one of them ever got a brain tumor, I would trade places in a heartbeat.
“You have talked and reckoned more than is good for you,” said Gandalf. “You will soon be sound again. Elrond has cured you: he has tended you for days, ever since you were brought in.”