June 18, 2014 § 37 Comments


“Have faith in the way things are. Love the world as your self; then you can care for all things.” – Lao Tzu

I was right in front of Oliver when he fell. I was sitting in my friend Jill’s gazebo taking a bite of watermelon at her son’s ninth birthday party as Oliver ran towards us. He and all of the boys were still in their bathing suits but had moved out of the pool and were now playing a complicated game of tag. Or maybe it was hide and seek. Oliver was running as if he was going to hide in the bushes around the gazebo, but he slipped on some dry leaves, and his face hit the wooden step. I jumped up and ran around behind him, but Jill reached out her arms and pulled Oliver up through the bushes, the gash on his face open like a second mouth. “Let me get Jon,” Jill said and handed me a beach towel.

Jill’s husband is a Navy doctor, and after what seemed like a long time, he walked over to us and calmly removed my shaking hand from the towel I was pressing into Oliver’s face. “Let me take a look at that.” After he replaced the towel he said, “Well, you can take him to the ER or I can take care of it here.” Sweat was dripping from Jon’s face. I looked down at his sneakers and realized Jill must have found him during his run.

“I want to stay here,” Oliver said.

Jill shrugged. “If it were our kid, we definitely wouldn’t go to the ER.”

Five minutes later we were sitting in their air conditioned kitchen while Jon dabbed at Oliver’s wound with Q-tips and unwrapped a package of Dermabond. “I’m going to teach you how to breathe while I do this,” Jon had said before he began, and I watched while together, he and Oliver inhaled and exhaled slowly, my own chest rising and falling, my own heart beginning to slow down.

“You’re doing great, buddy,” he told Oliver as he dripped hydrogen peroxide into the gash. “I’ve worked on Marines who yell and scream when I do this.” Oliver closed his eyes and squeezed my hand, and I had to look away and gulp air through my mouth. Last year, Jon returned from a deployment near the Helmand Province, an area rife with both insurgents and IEDs.  Jon is an orthopedist, and I didn’t want to think about the injuries he saw there.

“You all made it back from Afghanistan, right?” I asked Jon after Oliver had been patched up and was proudly showing the other boys his bandage.

“The medical corps all came home,” he answered. “But not all the Marines.”

Most days, as I cut peanut butter sandwiches in half, pull weeds from the tomato beds, sit in my friend’s bright kitchen as she dumps the watermelon rinds from a birthday party into the trash, I often forget I am tied to the military, even as artillery booms across the water and helicopters fly overhead. This war has been going on for so long that I am numb to the stories, as if they belong to someone else’s life or to another world completely. And then something happens – another civil war, another battle for Falluja, another story from a friend or neighbor – and I realize that closing my eyes doesn’t mean things stop happening.

Perhaps the biggest impact of Scott living in Bahrain is that the stories I used to think were relegated to an imaginary world are now intertwined with my own. I am too aware that things I thought only existed on the news are actually happening in my lifetime, in real time.

When I do Facetime with Scott, I sometimes see the Manama skyline from his hotel, the industrial, unfinished city and the sand surrounding it. He is apartment hunting now, and in the photos he sends, I can see the Persian Gulf from a window over the kitchen island or sometimes from the bedroom. Water view, he types underneath, as if he is trying to sell me on the place.

Last week, Scott told me about a brief he had to attend about Ramadan, in which he was reminded he could not eat or drink in public and that he was required to wear long sleeves and pants. Ramadan, I think, and remember a friend who left Afghanistan in the 1980s, as a child, because her father was a Freedom Fighter. During one Ramadan right after college,  I had my first chai tea in her tiny apartment  while she told me about the meals her grandmother used to cook when it was time to eat again.

For so long, I have lived in small, narrow rooms, consumed by my own private joys or struggles, or simply  the questions of what color pawn I want to be, when we are going to the pool, what we are having for dinner. I like being insulated like this, safe as houses. In fact, I long for a permanent home of my own with a keen and insistent wanting. I can’t wait until we can stop moving every two years like bedouin. Maybe I am even a little bit obsessed as I cut photos out of magazines, pour over Pottery Barn catalogs, and sometimes take paint swatches from Lowe’s, as if I had rooms to swath in color. So it’s probably no accident that each place I have lived has taken me further from my ideal of home, to the point where our family is no longer even together on the same continent.

My friend Christa once told me we keep getting the experiences we need until we learn the lessons, and I believe this may be true. A few months ago I read an interview by Chip Hartranft in which he defined abhyasa – traditionally translated as practice – as to sit and face what is real. When I told Rolf about this during my training, he said, “To sit and face what is real and allow it to be exactly as it is.” This may be the central lesson of my life right now: Can I keep my eyes open and let things be? Can I have faith in the way things are?

Oliver’s bandage fell off a few nights ago, which was a relief because it had gotten pretty gross. He was wearing only his pajama bottoms when he came to find me brushing my teeth, and he had to drag a step stool over to see himself in the bathroom mirror. The scar on the top of his cheekbone was small and neat, another stitch in the fabric of himself, holding together the being and the becoming. He turned from side to side, his torso lean and fragile. “You know Mommy,” he said with a big grin, “I think it looks pretty good.”








§ 37 Responses to Stitches

  • christagal says:

    Bowing to you, your learning, your family and the love you magically flow out onto the page. Such truth here.

    And tell Oliver I’m sure it makes him handsomer than ever. XOXO

  • “Can I keep my eyes open and let things be? Can I have faith in the way things are?” These questions of yours really spoke to me. It is so, so hard to do this, and yet, what other choice do we have? Sending love and light to you. What an incredible and strong woman you are. xoxo

  • Wylie Hunt says:

    So beautiful, and just what I needed to read this morning. Praying for you and your family!

  • Katrina Kenison says:

    “Closing my eyes doesn’t mean things stop happening.” It seems so obvious, and yet how easy it is to turn away from what is and dwell in some easier illusion. Reading your words I’m always stirred and moved in unexpected ways, reminded of how I want to be in the world, too. Your vulnerability is your great strength, as a person and as a writer. Beautiful, beautiful, as always.

  • I’ve missed your words, friend and was so happy to read them today. You ability to write your heart on the paper is so dear to me as I struggle to open my arms and lovingly accept things just as they are. Sigh. Thank you. xoxo

  • Shannon Lell says:

    This lesson of letting things be is my lesson too. We should compare notes in case there’s a test.

  • Dani says:

    Walking on your hands is a individual feat to be admired, but as a mother, you are learning to run on your feet. You may have been a runner in the past for individual reasons, but as a mother, running on your feet does not require concentration or motivation. It’s an instinct which is stronger than anything else in life. I’ve done the swoop and run to the hospital with my sons. You are learning how strong you are and how deep you can love. Beautiful lessons. Love from another military mom.

    • Pamela says:

      Thank you Dani. It’s so nice to hear from others who have gone through it and I always love hearing your stories.

      The swoop and run is perfect!!! It describes so much about motherhood! Xo

      Sent from my iPhone


  • Oh, Pamela. I adore this, just as I adore every word you write. Love. xox

  • jross428 says:

    Thank you. Always love reading your posts and digesting your lessons as my own.

  • Slices right to the heart, this one. I needed the reminder today about getting lessons over and over again until we learn what we need to learn AND to practice facing what is real. Your writing comes from such an honest place and I love it.

    • Pamela says:

      Thank you Betsy! I am so happy Oliver’s cut was not like your son’s thumb. Ye gads! I wouldn’t have been able to handle that. No way!!

      Sent from my iPhone


  • And P.S. I remember the day my son’s thumb was caught in a neighbor’s Volvo door. The sight of his bone through the wide open wound, having to hold his hand down during the stitches because it was late in the day at the pediatrician’s office and no nurses were left, was about the hardest thing I’d ever done up to that point. I’ve never forgotten it. It’s so much easier to do for other people’s kids. Glad you had some support nearby.

  • As always, bowled over by the economy of your words, which convey so much in such a (relatively) small space. I VERY much believe that we keep getting the lessons we’re not learning, until, of course, we do.

  • I devoured every word of this haunting post. Thanks for adding some beauty to my afternoon.

  • Thank you so much for this. You write – we keep getting the experiences we need until we learn the lessons. Isn’t this one of life’s true and painful truths.

    Of course, this does make meaning out what what can seem meaningless.

    You writing is lovely.

  • Beautiful writing, you say so many things I want to say. I think I am just starting out on the constant moving… For different reasons a corporate ladder and oil. My family is together (thankfully) but nothing is guranteed or permanent. I also dream of that house or home I can’t truly call my own. (Pinterest I love you and hate you). But I ramble, my question here is, if we open our eyes if we let our bodies and hearts take this world in, in real time, how can withstand it? The pain, sorrow and corruption?

  • Maybe the threads of doctoring and narrative alike somehow do more than stitch us back up, reminding us that we are all cut from the same ultimate cloth… our fears and sorrows woven into our forgetting.

  • ah, . the quality of your writings draw quality in the comments too, it is always illuminating to read both. today is one of those days where i am already overwhelmed -at 6:24 am… and so, let it suffice to say that i appreciate SO your thoughtfulness, and the explorations you are sharing …
    and the reminder to keep one’s eyes open … ah.

    • Pamela says:

      Thank you Kate! I so appreciate you writing because I know how much you have going on. Wishing you a day if peace and ease xo

      Sent from my iPhone


  • I often wonder when I read your writing if you are somehow perched in my brain! Just this morning I talked with a dear friend about our oldest children ‘graduating’ elementary school next week and how we are nearly paralyzed by it. Middle school? How is this even possible. We talked about how scared we were to feel the sadness of it all. Your words here, ““To sit and face what is real and allow it to be exactly as it is.” This may be the central lesson of my life right now: Can I keep my eyes open and let things be? Can I have faith in the way things are?” are the question aren’t they?

  • Lisa Ahn says:

    I always love your posts, the honesty and depth, the way you link such startling truths. I have so much trouble sitting and facing what’s in front of me. I go a million miles an hour to avoid what’s right there. Reading your work is like a tonic. I breathe. And exhale. Thank you.

    • Pamela says:

      Thank you Lisa! I also go a million miles an hour. Anywhere but here … It’s funny but your writing does the same for me – I breathe and remember that maybe the present moment isn’t such a bad place to be.

      Sent from my iPhone


  • Nina Badzin says:

    Pamela, I had not visited here in a while and I’m so glad I did today. Beautiful.

  • This is beautiful Pamela, you write so well and the emotions come through with every line.

  • Oh, Pamela! As always, you humble me with your emotional writing. “To sit and face what is real” is not something many can do. But, you are doing it…and you are doing it beautifully.

  • There is so much wisdom in this. My daughter is going through a difficult time with anxiety and is higher maintenance (in general) than most other kids her age. The lesson in “to sit and face what is real and allow it be exactly as it is” really resonates with me. Wishing she was different, easier, less anxious, isn’t helping any of us.

    Thank you for this beautifully written post, and so glad your son is alright.

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