06/09/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What's Right About Lice?

My friend, Lori, is fond of saying, "What's right about this that I'm not getting?" whenever a difficult or uncomfortable or painful situation erupts. So, for example, over her son's bar mitzvah weekend, Lori was accidentally locked in her bedroom with her sister, whom she'd been fighting with, and what was right about that catastrophe was that, instead of walking out the door and avoiding their conflict, they were forced to confront it. This past week, when my niece Jacqui and her three-year-old daughter, Sophia, were infested with head lice and drove from Philadelphia to New York to have expert delousers from the Lice Treatment Center carefully go through their hair while they sat patiently for hours in my family room, I quoted Lori's question to Jacqui: "What's right about this that we're not getting?"

It was hard to see what was right about these lice, especially since Jacqui had left her husband, Michael, back in Philly with the flu and a 104 degree temperature, and had driven up alone, with Sophia as well as her four-week-old baby, Charlotte, and she had to face another drive with her girls at the end of the evening. For almost five hours, while the afternoon sun slowly descended in the spring sky, Jacqui and Sophia's hair was combed through and sectioned off, cinnamon-smelling conditioners and products were applied, and the women paid as close attention to the nits and lice as if they were doctors performing a delicate operation. "Look, there's a live one!" Jacqui pointed at a bug on Sophia's forehead. Sophia didn't blink. She was watching Dora the Explorer on the computer. There were more applications of product, more scrutinizing the hair under a magnifying lamp, more rinses, more comb throughs, and a lot of joking around. "Do you think I've had this for a long time?" Jacqui asked the technician who sympathetically and diplomatically answered, "I think so."

"Like, when I went in to the hospital four weeks ago and had Charlotte?"

"You infected the hospital," I accused Jacqui and just saying the words caused a horrible itch to erupt on my back. Typically, Jacqui just laughed and said, "I'm sure I did!"

In general, I tend to be suspicious of the "What's right about this?" way of looking at life, because there's a danger of elevating looking for the silver lining in bad situations to a whole new level - what's "right" might imply that the victim is to blame and that God or life is left with no recourse but to teach you a lesson to make it right. I prefer not to think of God as some strict, serious-minded parent who is trying to keep us in line, which usually means we can't have any fun. Lori's understanding of "What's right about this?" isn't that it's about Divine lessons or retribution, but that what is happening keeps you living in the present, and shifts the energy, opening up new possibilities away from what's negative, and toward what else is possible. "If you make a decision," Lori says, "that there's nothing right about this, then that's a conclusion and it's fixed and you've stopped the energy. When you ask the question, you can recognize choices and opportunities which you might not otherwise have considered."

For me, there was a lot that was right about the afternoon I spent with Jacqui and Sophia and Charlotte. It took me out of my somewhat small, circumscribed world and my preoccupation with what to make for dinner and when can Daniel reschedule his violin lesson and what am I going to write about this week. It reminded me that family is family, whenever and wherever they show up, no questions asked, you slip right back into that old relationship, as naturally as Sophia slipped her hand in mine and said, "Aunt Ang, let's see the daffodils!" as we walked around Central Park. What was right was being with Jacqui, a remarkable young woman whom I've watched grow up and who, despite having been hit with a lot of adversity - her mother died when she was nine years old, her husband battled cancer the year after they got married, her father-in-law died of cancer months after Sophia was born - maintains a grace and humor that would be remarkable under any circumstances.

"Hey, kiddo," she said to Sophia, "you ate all the chocolate chips out of the cookie, and this is for me, huh? Thanks!" Said without irony, or at least not discernible irony, while holding up Sophia's leftover, broken cookie. "You're welcome," Sophia replied solemnly."

What was right about the lice infestation was the realization that there is nothing in our busy lives that can't be dropped in order to accommodate others. What was right about it was wondering why it sometimes takes little critters crawling around one's body to make one wake up and take notice - of one's own head and face and neck, of what's going on with one's self. What was right was taking Daniel and Sophia and our bulldog, Lola, for a walk and watching Sophia prance and dance down the sidewalk, and hearing Daniel say, with his remarkable clarity and perceptiveness, "She's such an individual."

What was right about it was getting phone calls from my sister-in-law, Debbie and from Jane, Jacqui's mother-in-law, checking up on the treatment, worrying that they'd gotten lice over Passover, and laughing with them about the ludicrousness of it all - Jacqui just had a C-section, then she'd hosted the Passover Seder at her home, Michael was felled by the flu - and now lice! How many plagues could one girl handle?

What was right about it was, late that night after brushing my teeth, I took off the elastic crown bracelet that Sophia, with great solemnity and import, gave me to wear, and I smiled.

Jacqui got a parking ticket - $115.00 - and she has two weeks of nit-picking ahead of her, not to mention taking care of her husband. I can't imagine that there's anything that was really right about this for Jacqui. Yet, in typical Jacqui fashion, she said that it was empowering. She'd taken the two girls on a big adventure, alone, which had made her nervous. But she'd done it.

In extremely crazy situations, she said, "I try to find a little humor, if not a life lesson. And asking, 'What's right about this?' can get you to either place and that's worthwhile. At least it gets you thinking about things in a slightly different way."

Everything has a ripple effect, Lori says, and so, too, these lice that hid in plain sight through the winter months in Philadelphia have touched my home here in New York, and now, I have something to write about. That feels right.

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