Friday, February 15, 2013

Sting of the Heat Bug, by author Jack Sheedy

Someday, the heat bug will sting. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Tolstoy was so wrong when he began Anna Karenina with the oft-quoted sentence: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Our happy, Eisenhower-era family had its ups and downs, happy moments and unhappy ones, none of them at all like those of other families. We never considered ourselves an "unhappy family," even though we had unhappy moments; and in our happy moments, we still felt different from other families in our happiness.

Author Jack Sheedy

In fact, we felt protected. Other families — happy or otherwise — occasionally experienced poverty, disaster, disease, even death. We looked on in horror and sorrow, and we thanked our Catholic God (if he is so!) that he protected us against such calamities. When we did have to endure troubles — such as losing most of our possessions in the flood of 1955 — we at least recovered eventually. God seemed to be protecting us, even as our parents grew old and we five siblings entered middle age.

And then it ended.

My older sister, Peggy, a Type 1 diabetic, went into an insulin coma in 1985 and died three months later. Peggy was my "Irish twin," born just a bit more than 10 months before I was. From infancy, we shared a bond no one else shared. As kids, we spent hours watching ants in the driveway. We listened to the "heat bug," the cicada high in the trees on a hot summer day. I asked her if it stings. She said yes, if you bother it. I asked how you could tell if you were bothering it. "Because it stings," she said.

As adolescents, she taught me to dance — or tried to. As adults, we had each other's backs when things went wrong. And now, just weeks after her 40th birthday, she was dead.

The Catholic miracle didn't happen. Whatsoever I asked for in Jesus' name was not granted unto me.

If I chose, I could have re-categorized our family as unhappy. Instead, I decided to write about Peggy's death, to make sense of it, to figure out whether God had abandoned me or I had abandoned him. Why did the heat bug sting me?

A poignant work of hope

I wrote most of the 60 short chapters of Sting of the Heat Bug  between 2004 and 2008 while a member of Shepaug River Writers, a writing group centered in Litchfield. When I was too maudlin, the other members let me know. When I was too flippant, or too depressing, my critics gave me the thumbs down.

My goal was not to get readers to say, "Oh, poor Jack!" I wanted them to say, "Poor me! I wish I had known Peggy!" If I had tried to elicit pity for myself, most likely readers would have thought, "Get over it already. So you had a tough time. Who hasn't? Deal with it!"

Before attempting to write, I had to get to a place where I no longer needed pity. I had to get to where I could feel hope. I recalled the reactions of other family members and acquaintances to this and to other misfortunes, and in every case I saw people taking positive control of their lives — getting more involved in church or community activities, reaching out to even less fortunate people, saying a kind word. I was amazed at the depth of their faith. They seemed to echo the words of Job: "Shall we receive good from God and shall not receive evil?"

The heat bug stings us all, sooner or later. We won't see it coming. We won't know just why it stings. We won't know what we might have done to bother it. But if we're lucky, we will survive it. We might even get healthier because of it.

To learn more about Sting of the Heat Bug, go to Signalman Publishing, where there is a link to both the paperback edition and the e-book.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful essay, and a wonderful book too!