This is a piece I wrote when I was doing my Masters in Journalism. I spent an entire semester writing and rewriting this piece. It’s about a very personal experience, but I thought I’d share:
By: Yasmin Mogahed
I was home. The semester was over. It was finals week. Frantically, I worked to finish the final pages of my research paper for experimental psychology-also known as population control of the UW psychology department. The paper was due by 4:00. It was 3:55. I called my TA to tell her I’d be there by 4:20. I was in control.
As humans, we always are—even when we’re not.
To survive the uncertainty of our lives, we create stories; and believe in them as faithfully as a child in the tooth fairy. Among the most convincing of theses stories is the belief in the omnipotence of human control. We believe—almost as fact—that the world around us is subject to our will and that it is in our power to control. We believe this because it seems too scary not to.
It was 4:05 when I got into my car. It was raining then. I was in a hurry. After dropping off my paper I had to go see my father in the hospital.
We never thought the pain was his heart. For years he would get those attacks: pain in the middle of his chest that his doctor passed off as asthma. But recently it had gotten worse. It wasn’t unexpected.
A lot had changed that year; and if there was one thing my father hated, it was change. He surrounded himself so much with what was familiar, and any threat to it disturbed him. He filled his office with hundreds of pens, unwilling to throw a single one away. By keeping each pen, he maintained his sense of control. But he couldn’t control the change that happened around him. That year my sister and I got married, and my mother moved for work. It was hard on my father. And his heart paid the price.
It was 4:10 now, but I wasn’t worried. I knew I had enough time before I needed to meet my mom. She was already at the hospital. She’d have it no other way.
Over the years, she carried my father’s illness more than even he. The fear, the tension, and the diet restriction all became her own. If she could, she would’ve eaten healthy for him. When my mom first heard he was sick, the news so consumed her that she tripped on the stairs and sprained her ankle. Until now, she can’t remember how.
That’s always how she was. Whenever something was on her mind, she couldn’t see the world around her. This time it was that final stair she didn’t notice. It was just another detail that threatened to disturb the balance and depth of her thoughts. A detail that threatened her sense of control.
At the time she heard the news she was working in New York where she’d been hired by Kodak just months earlier. It was a job she had worked hard for. My mother was a fighter. She always has been. After completing a PhD in engineering, she went back to school at the age of 50 to get her masters in computer science. She worked her entire life to get a stable job like that. She loved her job there. But when she found out about my father, a stewardess pushed my mother’s wheelchair onto the earliest flight to Wisconsin.
She came home that Thursday. The emergency bypass surgery was scheduled first thing Monday morning. The whole thing would be over in a few days. No problem. The doctor was in control.
It was 4:12 and my younger sister and I were on our way. It was raining more then, and I would later wish I hadn’t asked my husband to get those used tires. The hill was steep and all I could think of was catching my TA and getting to the hospital. So when the light turned yellow, I decided I had plenty of time to get through the signal. But the car in front didn’t think so. It stopped.
By that time I was driving at least 55 miles an hour. I slammed the breaks. They ignored me. It must have been seconds, but took hours.
I left my house at 4:05, to be at school by 4:20. My father entered the surgical room on Monday to be out by Friday. We’re all in control. We make our plans. We draw them out, and fill them in.
My car would never make it to campus. My car would never go anywhere again. My father never left the hospital that Friday—or the next. My father would not leave the hospital for the next 5 weeks. It was only by the grace of God that he left at all.
At 55 miles an hour, I slammed into the car ahead of me. At 48 hours after his surgery, my father had a heart attack and went into heart failure. The car never asked my permission, and neither did his heart. There was nothing either of us could do to control it.
It was 5:00. A tow truck dropped me off. I was forty minutes late, and right back where I’d started. I was home.