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Warning to readers: Sappiness alert

by GWEN FAULKENBERRY | October 23, 2022 at 2:16 a.m.

C.S. Lewis said we read to know we are not alone, and I am sure that is true. But I would say it is also why we write, or one of many reasons why I do. It is my letter to the world, like Emily Dickinson; my tossing of Eleanor Rigby's rice; the sounding of my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world like Walt Whitman. These are the best perks that come with writing this column: to find out I am not as isolated as I sometimes feel, and help others know they are not alone either.

I had no idea when I started that the greatest joy of a Sunday column would be interaction with readers. But almost immediately the emails started to stream in, and I meet the most interesting people. Preachers, teachers, doctors, nurses, custodians, librarians, lawyers. Business people, politicians, farmers, artists, administrators, activists, recluses. Veterans. Moms, dads, and grandparents. People retired from all kinds of jobs. People starting out.

I love it when people write me even if they disagree about something because I love it when people engage. I learn so much from readers.

A funny thing is that the audience seems to be all over the place, which is something else I like because I am, too. When I was hired to do this, the basic instructions were to be myself. So that's what I do. And that means sometimes I get obsessed with politics, especially as they pertain to public schools, so I write about that.

I love my family, students, small town, mountains, woods, river and ranch, so I write about that stuff too. I love dogs. Faith is important. People' s stories hold infinite fascination. Literature. Women's issues, beauty, health, and age are all on my radar. Nearly everything is, except for math. I don't much like math. I can almost guarantee you'll never see me write a column about algebra.

Sometimes a reader generates a column. Maybe one asks me to research something and write about it, as with the ballot issues. Often other political columns spring out of conversations with readers, and once in a while people ask about my faith. Some like what others don't, and vice-versa.

After the last non-political column I wrote, someone asked me why I didn't write real news about something important. After last week's unflattering comparison of part-time legislative salaries to full-time teachers', a kind reader wrote that she understood why these things are important, but she prefers stories about my life. So, for her, and anyone else curious, here is the sequel to the story I wrote about a month ago that began with me fainting at a ball game.

My new doctor thought perhaps I was dehydrated from excessive night sweats brought on by discontinued hormone therapy. I started a new med, not hormones, but supposed to help with that. It does. However, I continued to have weird spells in which I felt faint and had to sit or lie down immediately. Obviously not conducive to teaching, especially the theatrical performative antics which are my preferred method of instruction.

How else does one convey the magical genius of Shakespeare? The delicious horror of Poe? The unquenchable spirit of Zora Neale Hurston? But I digress. Suffice it to say one cannot do these things sitting down, which, as it turns out, doesn't keep me from having a spell anyway.

It took weeks of back-and-forth trips to the doctor for testing to find out I have fluid around my heart. Blood pressure was 80/50, which meant an emergency visit with a cardiologist, who thinks I probably have inflammation from a virus that caused the fluid. So now I am in week two of taking strong anti-inflammatory drugs for a month to try to get rid of the fluid.

Best-case scenario is that will be it--I'll be back to normal. Worst case is worse. So, we are hoping for the best. It makes a lot of sense. My theory is the mysterious virus could be whatever variant of covid I had in January, or perhaps another time since without knowing it. I haven't felt completely normal since January, but attributed it to turning 50 and working three jobs.

Since the cardiologist's entry into this story, I have been on sick leave from teaching under the FMLA; praise be to God that it exists. I don't know how one recovers from something stressful when expected to do so without pay. It pains me to think of those who face the compounded distress of that kind of situation.

If there is a silver lining to having a health scare that has stopped me in my tracks--I cannot exercise or stand up for long, drive myself out of town, or pick up anything heavy, and sleep about 12 hours per 24 instead of my normal 7 or so--it is empathy with those who have a chronic condition that dictates much of their lives.

The world becomes small, and one feels vulnerable. It is maddening to try to make plans and then have to cancel because your body says so; craziness-inducing to think you feel good enough to get groceries and then have to lie down before putting them up.

The other day I went to get my hair cut after canceling twice. My husband had to drive me--we made jokes about Driving Mrs. Daisy--and pick me up. While I was there, I told my woes to Shanda, the necromancer tasked with turning my mousy mop into something presentable. She commanded me to spill the beans, since all she knew was that I was on every church prayer list in town.

There was another lady in the shop. I didn't know her, which is unusual in Ozark. A wooden cane leaned against her seat. She was older than me; thin, long-legged, with a tiny face, enviable hair, and a posture somewhat drawn inward, like she was trying to disappear. She stared at her feet. I felt badly she had to listen to my boring litany of ailments, but I was at the mercy of Shanda's interrogation.

I finally finished the sordid tale with something like, "So that is why I've had to cancel my appointments, and I'm really sorry. One day I wake up thinking I am OK, but an hour later I am back in bed."

The lady lifted her head. Her blue eyes shimmered. "I am so glad I am here today and got to hear this story."

Shanda and I exchanged a look.

The lady chuckled. "No, really. Because--and Shanda knows this--I have Parkinson's. I have to cancel my appointments. In fact, things like that happen to me all of the time." Her eyes disappeared as she smiled. Her voice quivered. "It's just nice to know I am not alone."

In speaking up, she gave me back the same gift. I wish there was a way to share it with whole world; to create a place where everyone feels they belong. I hope this column is such a space.

My editor and I kidded around the other day about becoming Perspective's Dear Abby, or Dear Sugar, or even Carolyn Hax. But what happens here feels more reciprocal. We belong to each other, because of great readers who engage. Thank you.

Gwen Ford Faulkenberry is an English teacher and editorial director of the non-partisan group Arkansas Strong. ( Email her at

Print Headline: Warning to readers: Sappiness alert


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