A Gourd Named Winkler: Killing Assassins with Cute, Fluffy Dogs

On occasion in these posts, I have alluded to “my pain”, while never really explaining it in any truly satisfactory way. And you’re now thinking, THIS! Finally! The whole reason I bookmarked this ridiculous website and keep coming back when my screen nudges me about new posts (incidentally, if you thought you were a subscriber and have kinda never gotten so much as a how-ya-do from my website, a thousand apologies and kindly resubscribe. If you can figure out how. There’s a button or something, right? Superior Nephew? Bueller?), I am finally about to get the answer that will make everything make sense! Well… most everything!

Sorry, folks. This isn’t that day. It’s not that I don’t want to explain. I just… yep, don’t want to explain.

The things you need to know for today’s story to make sense are as follows:

  1. I was 13 when the pain started.
  2. It took a long time to diagnose, and even longer to find any sort of treatment.
  3. My maiden name was Winckler.

Kindly note the spelling on the last name, because one of the most common misconceptions (which I may or may not have absolutely milked) growing up was that we were in some way related to the Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli of Happy Days, played by the great Henry Winkler. Words matter, people, and so does their spelling. Though my mother made an admirable effort to convince my brother to name one of his kids Henry so that she could claim to be Henry Winckler’s grandmother, no dice, and so we are not even a little bit related to the Fonz. Sigh. Life’s little tragedies.

It was on one of the many long drives to and from Seattle Children’s Hospital that Marme and I came across Winkler.

There was so little that could be done, really. I had so much physical and occupational therapy during my freshman year of high school that I earned P.E. credits for the full four years and did not have to dress down, even once. I was starting to learn pain management techniques — visualization, aromatherapy and generally being less wimpy as a human being. Managing is the key word. We found a lotion that I liked the smell of and my dad would use it to rub the affected foot and I learned to associate the smell with relaxation, with relief; to this day, the smell of cucumber and aloe makes my breathing slow down.

I don’t recall why we stopped at a gift shop on our way home. It wasn’t typical for these drives, though Marme was incredibly kind in finding things not related to pain throughout these trips –things like the flagship store for Fran’s Chocolates, back before they knew they were going to make it big and need a flagship store, or high-end consignment stores in neighborhoods where folks gave away expensive clothing with the tags still on them (cutest Madras plaid sundress ever… ). So maybe it was something like that. All I know for certain is that we saw Winkler in the window and the rest is history.

He was a small, golden stuffed dog with the softest imaginable fur, forever curled up in coziness. I have never really been much for stuffed animals (which is part of why it entertains me hugely that all of my Quail are so attached to theirs that they are no longer stuffed animals, but have personhood in my mind to such a degree that I feel genuine and thoroughly embarrassing anxiety when one gets himself lost), but this little puppy was impossible not to pet. And that is when I noticed his name tag: Winkler. We took it as a sign, and Winkler became one of my favorite and best pain management tools.

Shaped just right for someone doubled over in pain, Winkler fit right along my chest, could curl up against my stomach, and was a soothing sensation to focus on while I tried to breathe through the pain spikes that kept me awake at night. Over the years, he was given his second great assignment in being one of the wise and loved animals in the Quail’s collection of stuffed animals (they were observing, bemused, this morning how the animals who never were fitted with a voice always seem the wisest. There might be something to that, eh? Better to have people think you a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt?). But this week, after he had spent the day as part of a complicated storyline with the other stuffed animals and was inadvertently left on the living room floor, I happened to be in the midst of a particularly difficult pain spike and I picked him up and took him to bed with me.

That’s right, hecklers, I am nearing 40 years old and this last week, the greatest comfort I had was to hold a stuffed dog while I tried to sleep.

The Lord gives, the Lord takes away — blessed be the name of the Lord. We recite that in the face of death… as if that was the only loss worth noting. I know, I know — Jonah again, but seriously, Jonah has been a powerful study for me at this particular moment in my personal history and chapter 4 is the kicker that cuts me wide open every time I read it. Need a refresher?

Jonah wipes the whale spit off his face and takes off at a trot to Nineveh, that gigantic, gigantically evil city, and he brings God’s words to the people, who immediately repent and crush themselves before the Lord, king and all, praying for mercy they know they don’t deserve. Bueno, right? Well, not if you’re Jonah. He is absolutely ticked that God has forgiven this lousy people (passing over the very recent happening of this same God forgiving His lousy prophet, but let’s not cloud the issue with facts) and goes off in a huff. God then sends a gourd, some fast-growing shady plant to bring relief to his irritable servant, who receives it like a breath of fresh air and falls asleep. Then God sends a hot wind to kill the plant, and Jonah rails over the injustice of it all — how dare You take away the only thing in this dash dash dashing week that brought me any comfort!!

Squirming yet? Oh come on. Am I literally the only person who is as big a jerk as Jonah? Oh. Ok. Awkward. Anyway, moving on…

Enjoying the gourd wasn’t sin. When God sends comforts –marriages, friendships, stability financially, sunny days, soft stuffed animals– they are intended for us to receive gladly, with thanks. And when He takes them away again… blessed be the name of the Lord. I have always viewed my pain as an enemy, as an assassin lurking in my own nervous system, waiting to pounce on my every weakness and to suck the life from me — constant vigilance. Once upon a time, He sent the comfort of a stuffed dog… for a season. And if I find myself nose to nose with the assassin today and wishing for the days of shade, the days of comfort, then Lord, let my longing be intermingled with praise.

“That which should especially silence our discontent is that though our gourd be gone, our God is not gone.” — Matthew Henry

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