Watersheds: Stories of Crises and Resolution in Everyday Lives
(Toronto: Lester Publishing, Ltd. 1994)
Work ends, health fails, love dies. Companies restructure, marriages dissolve, our very bodies become ill and frail. When life as it has been lived is disrupted and change becomes a necessity, how then do we survive? Watersheds maps the changes people have made in their struggles with illness, and with crises of conscience, unemployment and family breakup. Like the work of Oliver Stacks and Studs Terkel, Watersheds begins with the stories of real people, folks like us who describe the terrible difficulties they face and the ways they overcame them.
In the end, Watersheds offers a message of hope. In considering the stories as a group, he finds in the changes all made a new vision of what it means to be a person in our society. And in considering those lessons, Tom Koch shows how they offer a new way of thinking about contentious issues, from assisted suicide to the battle over abortion, from fetal rights to the place of the elderly in society.
- "I found these stories so compelling, so novel-like I found myself reading the stories almost like I'd read a novel." Kyna Rubin, Urban Institute
- "The reality of people's lives and the dilemmas they face are genuine teachings. These people are so courageous, and yet the courage is so ordinary. Perhaps that is how courage always is." Professor Walter Wright, Chair: Dept. of Philosophy, Clark University
- "As a parent of a child with multiple challenges as well as medical problems I would like to take this time out to thank you for writing "Watersheds.' Reader Letter
- "This book is a gem to be read and reread several times. Moving and beautifully written." Dr. Arlette LeFebvre, Ability Online
Watersheds is a book about crisis and it's resolution. It tells the stories of seven people who have faced and surmounted crises of health, family, faith, and conscience. While each story is in the narrator’s own words, concluding chapters draw upon the stories to discuss what is learned in crisis, and how it can be faced by others.
The following brief excerpt from Showtime, details the struggles of a man whose wife has severe Multiple Sclerosis.
You know what I do when Anne has an attack? You want to hear craziness? I stay up at night. I don't sleep. You know why I don t sleep? Because I want to be awake to fight the attack. Because I can fight it better when I'm up. So I stay up. I don t swear at God. But I feel sometimes we're in a battle. We re in a battle, and in my heart I know He'll win in the end. But you know what? I'm giving Him a good fight. I'm giving Him a good fight. He does what He has to do. I do what I have to do. I don't know when I first get her up in the morning if there's going to be another attack, whether something has happened during the night. So as soon as I get up, I wake her, or see that she's awake. Then I start to come alive. And I make her come alive too. I go [singing], Ta dum, Ta DUM, TA DUM. I sing to her every morning, and again when I get home from work. I sing to her how beautiful she looks. I open up the blinds in her room and [singing] let the sun come in. I talk about the day. I say if it’s snowing, or if it’s pouring, if it’s just raining, if it's gray or if it's bright. I start off with: Isn't it a beautiful day! Look at the rain coming down! Maybe it’s, "Look at the snow falling!" or "Look at the sun!" Whatever. But still, there’s a brightness coming in. And then I tell her that I’m going to give her breakfast and that I'm going to bring in a banana and that . . . well, it's an event! I make it an event and ask her what she’d like to eat. Does she want oranges or cranberry juice? Or does she want . . . . It’s an event!
In the early part of the disease, when things were very, very tough, there was no reason in my mind to show my wife, or to show my children, the pain and the grief that I felt. It’s also no use, no help to anybody, to come home, close the door, and say: I want to be alone or I had a hard day. So what I would do is. . . do you know the Bob Fosse movie, All That Jazz? Well, when I came home I would stay outside the door and click my fingers like he did in the movie. It's not that I would do it mentally, I would actually do it. Then I would announce, It's showtime! and come in singing: Ta dum! Ta DUM! TA DUM!! It's like an announcement: I'm home! or The evening is starting! And that is the way it still is. I still sing to my wife.
* * * I remember when Anne first got sick, I thought, How are we going to go to the theater? How are we going to go to the ballet? How are we going to go to the opera? How are we going to go to the movies? Who's going to take her to the washroom? I can't afford to have a woman just to take her to the washroom! It never occurred to me, at the start, that I was going to be the one to take her to the washroom! But I did. At first, I'd go to a restaurant where there was a private washroom. I'd have a friend stand outside, and then we’d go in. But there were circumstances: you'd go to a wedding, for example. You’d go here or you'd go there, and that way would be impossible. Then I developed the ability just to go in and make a joke. One time somebody came in. I was taking Anne out of a stall and trying to put her into a wheelchair. I had her in my arms when suddenly two ladies walked in and they saw this sight of a man with a lady in his arms. And they stopped there, shocked! "Well!" I said. "You mean this isn't the dance floor?" [Laughs.] And so you see, they would laugh, too. There would be a relaxing. Sometimes I'd walk in and say, "Come on, ladies. We re in here because this is far better than the men’s washroom."
We went out to restaurants. And we went to the theater. Then, when we were only able to go to the theater in a wheelchair, I'd pick her up and put her in the seat. And as the disease progressed and we couldn't do that, we would go directly into a special theater area where we could wheel right in. And when the disease progressed and I couldn't do that, we'd just go to the restaurant. If you had asked me before this began if I would ever take my wife to a restaurant where she couldn't feed herself, well, I'd have said, Are you crazy? It would affect everybody there. They would find it unpleasant! But we did it. I've had times where she would fall over, and a friend would come up and very casually walk behind to hold her straight. I would feed her, and he would be holding her straight up.
So we continued to go out to eat. And when that stopped, when we just couldn't go to restaurants because of her balance and other things, well, we ate in the car. We used to eat in the fanciest restaurants. Then one day we went out for a weekend and we didn't get out of the car. I will always remember this because, afterwards, people asked, How was your weekend? And I said that we really had a great time. What did you do? they asked. I said, We did this, and then we had a grilled cheese sandwich in the car. And then we did the next thing, we did this and we did that, and then we had a hamburger in the car. I laughed and laughed. You know, I said, this is crazy! But this is what we're doing. We had this sandwich and we had that sandwich in the car. But you know, we had a great time. And we did. We had a great time.
Now she can’t eat in the car. She can’t swallow in a car. So we drive for five hours. We drive alone. We drive with friends. We sing. We talk. She can't eat, but whatever her capacity is at any stage, we did what she could do. Now, if you saw me carry her into the car or take her out, well, you wouldn’t want to see it. So I make sure I don't let anybody see me. But once we're in that car, we are regular people!
I tend to keep a little Dictaphone machine with me. When I was driving down to the office or to teach, I would dictate memos and things. Then one day I just dictated, just spoke about how horrible I was feeling about something. I don't know who I was speaking to. I wasn’t speaking to Rebecca, my secretary, although she'd been my secretary for a long time. I just spoke. And the next day this secretary of mine, who is now my law clerk, came up to me and said, I typed it. She didn't say it was horrible. She didn't say it was awful. She didn't say, "I m sorry you felt this way." She didn't say anything like that. She just said, "I typed it." After that, without our making an agreement, without our talking about it, I would talk into this memo machine whenever I was feeling horrible or feeling a grievance. She would then type it, but we never, ever talked about it. Nor have I ever read these memos. This went on for a long time. Somehow it worked the anger, the bitterness, whatever it is that I'm feeling, comes out in those memos.
Except for once in the last year, I've not used this memo thing recently just as, except for maybe once, I've not gone to the social worker in the last year. But those memos helped me get through all this. That one time this year, I woke up at four o'clock in the morning and had to find my tape machine. I had to make my tape. I hadn't made a memo in months, in at least six months, but now I was really desperate. I still remember that memo. It said: I get out of bed and it’s, say, three in the morning. And I hear this scream. And it is horrible. It goes on and on and on and on, and it is a scream full of so much agony, and resentment, and anger, and pain. And then I feel my face and find that it's all wet. And then I realize the screaming is coming from me. There is so much pain. There is so much of this. And that was the end of the memo. Then I put the Dictaphone machine down and went back to bed. But for a couple of days afterwards, I cried when ever I read that memo.
This is an excerpt from the story Showtime, published in the book Watersheds. It is presented here with the permission of the publisher, Lester Publishing, Ltd. of Toronto. The book contains seven life histories of crisis and renewal. Another chapter, Implications, attempts to define the elements common to all the stories, the changes all narrators went through in order to live with and surmount their challenges. The final chapter, Applications, attempts to apply their insights to current social issues abortion and euthanasia, for example. The book is available either from the publisher, Key Porter books, Toronto or online.