Ann's nickname is descriptive, as Ann loves to have a plan. The name has internal rhyme and hints at an iambic meter, as do so many of Shakespeare’s sonnets. That’s what gives the name its poetic ring.
When we said our vows at our wedding, Ann addressed me as "Sweet Mary" and I addressed her as "Ann-a-Plan." That way, we were sure to know whom we were addressing.
Soon after my surgery, we went to an outdoor concert to see the Indigo Girls sing their harmonic tunes. It was cool outside and the sky threatened to drizzle, so I put on my Gortex rain jacket. When I tried to take a sip of water, I missed my mouth and poured quite a bit of water down my front. Ann noted, "At least you're dressed for drinking." We both laughed.
Ann and I laughed about the possibility that any Latin American community would read our profile and choose to partner with us, but we were quickly paired with a community in El Salvador. We theorized that they must not have read our documents, but as we got to know this community, we learned that our assumptions about Latin America, like so many peoples' perceptions of the American South, were oversimplified and did not allow for the complexity that we would find there. What we found on our first visit—and in subsequent visits over the last decade—was that we had much to learn about our own country’s role in their civil war, and that they were willing to learn with us, too. We have laughed at ourselves for our doubt.
Last Christmas, I agreed to brave an ocean crossing for the first time since radiation, though I was not quite ready to leave the United States, so Ann and I went to Maui.
Our first day there, we tried snorkeling. When I tried to get in the water with my flippers and mask on, I was washed back to shore by a large wave, scraping the ocean floor as I tumbled to shore. I scooped up so much sand that I was still finding small shells in my belly button the next week. Others on the beach tried to help me, as I suspect they feared I might drown. I survived, and Ann and I laughed with our whole bodies, but I didn’t try snorkeling again. We still laugh about me rolling about like a fish caught in the shallow surf.
In the year after my surgery, we loved the way that children around the age of three responded to my eye-patch. Once, soon after going home from surgery, we went to Children's Hospital to visit some friends and their child. (Their young child had undergone several heart surgeries. She looked great and continues to thrive.) Her mother was telling us how many entertainers came through Children's to entertain the young patients. They had seen singers with guitars, puppeteers, people with puppies, and so on. As we were leaving, Ann pushed me in my wheelchair down the hall and a boy about seven years-old came out of a nearby room, nonchalantly raised his hand in greeting and said, "Hi Pirate," as if he was not at all surprised to see a pirate in this hospital. We laughed.
Another time, when I was waiting in the emergency room, a girl of about three came bravely over to ask me if I was a pirate. "Yes," I said, "I am a pirate. What are you?" Without hesitating, she said, "I'm a cat." And to this I wisely responded, "I thought so. That must be why you painted your fingernails." She simply nodded seriously and raised her hand to show the nails—bright pink with little white kittens—as proof to both of us.
Our niece Gretchen was not so amusing. She took one look at that patch and wailed in fear. She sobbed so powerfully that she had dry heaves, and my brother looked to the heavens, "Please, please, don't throw up." The next year my sister-in-law asked, "Gretchen, are you sad that Auntie Mary doesn't have her eye-patch this year?" To this, Gretchen responded seriously, "No, I am not sad that Auntie Mary doesn't have her eye-patch this year." Ann and I laughed and nodded in agreement. We weren't sad to miss that patch, either.
Ann and I have a long history of laughing together. Before my surgery, we visited our sister parish in Guarjila, El Salvador. The first morning there we awoke to a squealing in the yard where our family lived. When we had arrived, a young pig—perhaps a piglet—was tied to a stake in the yard like one might tie up a dog.
In another example of excessive tidiness, a carpenter, Sailor (I don't know why her name is Sailor and not Carpenter), remodeled our downstairs bathroom so that it is now more accessible for me. Sailor put some extra tiles and plumbing parts in an old trashcan and moved it to the basement to get it out of the way. Ann emptied the trashcan when she was straightening the basement that afternoon, and our parts were driven to the dump during trash pickup the next morning. Oops.
This has happened to us before. Early in my radiation treatment, we were crossing the street in the crosswalk as we left the hospital, and an elderly woman wearing her bathrobe and fuzzy slippers (to protect her from the winter cold) turned to me and said, "Thank you for taking such good care of your mother." When she noticed that I was the one using the cane, she looked confused and shuffled along.
I feel so lucky to be living this life with Ann. Today, I'm celebrating the fact that she was born to make so many of our lives so much better. I love you, Ann-a-Plan!