Before total replacement surgery of my right shoulder March 29, I decided to do everything I could possibly think of to get ready for not using my dominant arm, hand and fingers for a month or so. I loaded the freezer with casseroles, vegan for me, omnivore-ish for my husband. I boiled and bagged a lot of green lentils and brown rice. I drove to Portland, Freeport, Yarmouth and South Portland to favorite health food stores and take-out spots to buy meals, and accepted the graciousness of anyone who offered to deliver food. I reached out with requests. I checked “eating” off the list.

Susan Lebel Young, MSEd, MSC, lives and works in Southern Maine. Reach her at or

I purged my closet of old, outworn and outgrown winter parkas, sweaters, hats and mittens and tried to do the same for my husband, who was not so “obsessed.” (I think that’s the word he used.) To move all these clothes out of the house, I hunted down consignment shops. For items rejected there, I made piles for anybody who might value my trash as their treasure. Not many takers there, either. But I wanted nothing left undone before my upcoming month of “I can’t do anything,” so I drove to Goodwill and donated overstuffed bags and checked off “clothes.”

I vacuumed otherwise ignored places, under beds, behind the refrigerator, in closets. I know. I know. Is obsession the right word? I dusted the black range top above the stove and the cream-colored windowsills and baseboards.

Obsession, right? “Clean condo.” Check.

I made an appointment to have my car detailed the day after my surgery since I could not drive for at least two weeks. I had never done that – ever – in the 50-plus years I’d driven and owned cars. But it seemed like the sensible thing to do. “Car.” Check.

“Oh,” I told myself, “I should pick up the dry cleaning.” Wait, we had no dry cleaning. No matter, I thought of it anyway. My mind flooded with endless to-do lists. Laundry, done. Dishes, done. Books returned to the library, done. Notes to grandkids, done. Two columns written in advance, since I would not be able to type or write with my right hand. Done.


Surgery completed and successful, the realization dawned that, in my “preparation” (as I called it), I had forgotten the beauty of the universe, human generosity, the kindness of neighbors, the willingness of friends and relatives to help.

I forgot how angels show up. People I love visited. Others called. My sisters texted. My cousin arrived with dark chocolate and said, “I can strip beds and wash sheets for you.” A walking partner brought my favorite salad. My husband asked all day, every day, “What can I do for you?” One pal organized my computer files. My Massachusetts daughter hired a Maine woman to cook once a week for us. My son called from New York, “Mom, what do you need?” I had forgotten the power of community.

Perhaps obsession does not describe what we do to prepare this way. Perhaps, rather, we get stuck in a certain ego-assumption that we exist solo. Perhaps we merely fail to remember the generous nature of human beings: that we can ask for help, that people want to be of service, that at some basic level we are never alone.

For a month I slept in an upright position, right arm in a sling, feeling the multi-pillowed bed, the sling and the outpouring of aid. Perhaps when we let ourselves receive all types of support we get to say, “connection to humanity,” check.

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