My wife had an outpatient procedure. The first time I accompanied her to one of these procedures, I was left in the curtained prep and recovery area when she went into the surgical unit. And I stayed. And I fretted. Alone, beneath fluorescent bulbs I cried. I worried. I played out the worst in my head. I barely resisted dumping my panicky feelings on my daughter via text.
This time, I wandered downstairs, bought an apple, and found the hospital’s Healing Garden. The warm summer sun warmed my spirit as I wandered the Healing Garden and chomped on my apple. As I admired the floral symphony, I wasn’t alone this time. The Holy Spirit touched my worries, acknowledged them but reminded me of the love that flowed through doctor’s fingers, nurse’s skills, and anesthesiologist’s watchfulness.
Though the big event is still several months away, my hands know the softness, the feel of his healthy pudginess. My arms and back anticipate his weight. The soft, smooth feel of his hair long ago embedded themselves on my soul. Even the texture of the unpleasant, though common, are familiar. The feels of my unborn grandson are already writing themselves to my hard drive.
My nose tingles when I think of the smells. Both virulent and healing aromas weave themselves together in memory and hope. The smell of both rancid and aromatic are equally regarded when they tangle with my already boundless love for the boy to come. Hasn’t he always been? (Jeremiah 1:5)
Impulsive, divine tears and silly grins compete for top bill at the sounds of giggles and gurgles months before the first sound wave reaches my ear. Angst and worry have their moments as well when I well up at shrill sounds of illnesses that will have to be endured by the small one. He won’t understand and my heart will break. My limbs tense into rescue mode as I think about the communication sounds that will burst forth from one so new to earth.
The half-smiles, the pout I’ll love so much, that expression my son used to make that I’d forgotten, and even my grandfather’s nose have already inscribed themselves upon my heart. All of God’s hopes and dreams have conspired to create this winsome sight.
I can taste the boundless joy. My own, that of the remarkable woman who carries him in her womb, my very tall baby boy, and the confident and optimistic God who still believes in humanity.
She married my daughter on Saturday. Though we have long considered her part of the family, I’ve struggled to tell others how important she is to me. I’ve been without a simple label that communicates who she is to me.
Calling her “my daughter’s partner” or “my daughter’s girlfriend” only explained who she was to my daughter. The awkwardness of “my daughter’s significant other” did little to uncloak my love for her.
Add my fear of the bigotry of anti-LGBT sentiments to the failure of our language too often caused me to stutter. I’m ashamed to admit I sometimes avoided expressing my love for her because of fear of bigoted Christians.
I love that young woman. During a short period of time years ago when she and my daughter were apart, I went into a mild depression. Yes, she’s that wonderful! She’s also that perfect for my baby girl!
For twelve years, I’ve been marginally successful at expressing my love for her to others. And then this year, the law finally caught up with love, allowing two soulmates who met in college to marry.
I am thrilled to call her my daughter-in-law!
Now when I tell someone about my daughter-in-law, they immediately know that the relationship is deeper and more important to me than a random friend of my daughter. Not only did the Supreme Court finally validate the legitimacy of love between my daughter and her beloved, they validated my love for her. My daughter-in-law is connected not just to my baby girl, but to me.
I struggled to keep my eyes on the freeway as I drove westbound. Across the Columbia River on the Washington side, I could see flames rapidly advance across the drought-parched grasses. That was a mere ten-days ago.
Because of diligent firefighters, the fast moving fire was fully contained within a week but not before over 4000 acres burned including a large portion of the familiar trails of Columbia Hills State Park.
As I traveled those trails yesterday, the smell of burn filled my nostrils. The monochromatic ground contrasted with singed trees. Familiar locations looked alien to my eyes. Were it not for the memories of the shape of the earth, of the scalded yet surviving trees, I would not have known this place.
Is it any wonder that dualistic thinking imagines a Hell filled with fire and its destruction? The wrath appears final. The color removed, life can seem hopeless after a fire.
But hopelessness and permanence are not the nature of the earth.
The Heaven versus Hell crowd fail to observe the world as it is. Creation reflects the energy, the creator, the divine spirit I call God. Creation and Creator are not binary or unchanging.
Quite the contrary, the burnt landscape I traversed yesterday will undergo a resurrection in the spring. If the Rowena Fire from last year is any indication, the resurrection will begin before the end of the year. (See The Lichen and Leaves of Hope.)
The nature of the One who connects all that is with all that is, the nature of the divinity within and between us all is not binary or dualistic at all. The nature of God is not about harsh judgement, angry retribution, Heaven and Hell, and certainly not about eternal damnation.
The nature of God and creation is about a path that begins at birth and continues through death to resurrection. This is the lesson of the Christian narrative of the life and teachings of Jesus — the biblical witness. Love overcomes even death. Love does not condemn creation or humanity to fiery Hell. It can’t; if it did it wouldn’t be love but hate.
Thirty-five sounds like we should have special plans. We should get all dressed up in our sexiest clothes and go out to dinner. If you believe the commercials, I should surprise her with an expensive gift. Perhaps a diamond ring or necklace. Maybe I should send her thirty-five roses?
Instead we’ve been hiking and now we’re hanging out together over fast food pizza. We might stop by the cherry stand in Mosier on the way home and we’ll probably cuddle with the dog this evening. We rarely put pressure on ourselves with the big days or the numbers. We also don’t spend money on each other just because some marketer says we should.
We spend time together. As we traveled from our remote town to the trail this morning, we talked about our future. I asked about how she was feeling about work which is currently in a state of flux. She listened as I reflected upon my hopes and dreams ministering with my congregation. We listened. We loved.
We did what we usually do on our Monday sabbath. We spend time doing things we enjoy and just being together.
Still, I’m more reflective today than most Mondays. As I look across the table at my Imzadi, my soul mate, my other half, my partner in life, my thoughts drift to where we were then and where we are now.
We were married young. Maggie was nineteen; I was a few months into my twenties. Objectively speaking, she has a few “blonde” hairs on her head now. My red beard is rapidly greying and we both wear bifocals now. We finished our childrearing a long time ago. We bicker less than we did during those years, perhaps because we have more rest and time to work on our relationship. Undoubtedly, because we’ve learned a thing or two about ourselves and one another through the decades.
Through it all — including the stormy times — our commitment to one another has remained rooted in our own mutual admiration society. You see, there is no one else. There is no one, including my children, with whom I’d rather be than Maggie. No one gets me like she does and I get her better than anyone else. I know and love her through her idiosyncrasies. She inexplicably finds my obnoxious morning (and afternoon and evening) songs endearing.
How could a diamond necklace or roses in any way represent the value of our thirty-five years together? Time together, sharing jokes with one another, talking about the next thirty-five, and simply being together are gifts that reflect our decades together. Those are the gifts we both expect from one another.
Even from a distance I suspected something wasn’t right. Arriving on the sacred ground which lies part-way up the Coyote Wall trail my suspicions were confirmed. I don’t know what caused the rocks to tumble. Given the storms that I know they successfully endured, I am doubtful that a natural occurrence caused the fall.
I could be wrong.
Not knowing, my mind fills in the gap. I imagine a biker racing down the trails losing control and inadvertently sending the stones to the ground.
I could be wrong.
Not knowing, my mind fills in the gap. I imagine a group of people laughing and kidding around. Getting rowdy, one of the group inadvertently bumps into the sacred altar. Rocks fall.
I could be wrong.
Though I don’t know what caused the rocks to tumble, I find some solace in the attempt to re-stack them. Did a remorseful biker frantically seek to restore the altar of small boulders? Did she reject antiseptic wipes and a bandage to her knee while she sought to rehabilitate the altar?
I don’t know.
Maybe the laughter and kidding around turned to shock and dismay as boulders tumbled to the ground, the very ground I deem sacred. Maybe formerly joyous hikers’ moods turned contrite and serious as they carefully sought to restore the zen rocks to their former state.
I don’t know.
I am not likely to learn what caused this sacred altar to be altered. My imagination can create a myriad of possible scenarios to explain the destruction and the attempt to restore the sacred space to its former condition. None of my imagined scenarios change the present condition of a the sacred site along the Coyote Wall rim trail. (See A Whisper of a Trail and Sacred Ground.)
Conjecture and supposition — my imagination — does not have the power to change the present moment. However, they does have the power to change me.
Each interpretation of the unknown is accompanied by emotions. Some of the emotions have the power to make me miserable. For example, if I chose to imagine (and believe) that vandals maliciously destroyed the tower, give feelings ranging from sadness to hurt to anger to overt hostility a green light.
And so it matters what I choose. I decide who I want to be. And so I choose to focus not on what I don’t know but on what I do know. I know that the rocks fell and have been reassembled in a new way by someone.
I am disappointed and grieve the change in the zen rocks. Those are legitimate emotions; I own them. I hold them for awhile and then I will let them go. Though I know those emotions are my human desire to prevent change, I take note of them. I learn about myself from those emotions.
I recall that during a wilderness time in my life, this sacred ground with its seriated rocks were important to me. I honor their contribution to my well-being. Like the transformed zen rocks, I have changed. I am no longer in that wilderness. Reflecting, I learn that in my humanity, I still fail to live fully in the present. In recognizing and learning from my emotions, I accept myself. Like every one of us, I am on a journey unique to me.
Because I want love to be the vehicle in which I travel, I focus on the zen rocks as they exist today and carefully choose what I imagine. I think about those who re-stacked the fallen rocks. Though I don’t know, I choose to see a group effort at restoration.
Pondering the sacred stones, I see an upper spire that grows out of many rocks. Combining my chosen imagined reconstruction with their present state, I am reminded that love is communal. Just as each stone in the altar’s reconstructed form depends upon many others, it is in our mutuality and interdependence that love grows.
Because I chose carefully how I would react to the loss (or transformation, really) of a physical monument, I perceive hope. I am reminded that our individual and mutual hope lies in our one-ness with and appreciation for others and their journeys. Our personal and collective hopes lie in choosing to interpret the experiences of our lives through a lens of love.
Waking from a lucid dream, I lay in my hospital bed in those wee hours. I was convinced that they were out to get me. Even moving slightly in the bed caused excruciating pain. How would I protect myself from them?
Through the narcotic painkillers induced paranoia, I looked at my wife Maggie sleeping in the chair beside my bed. What about her? She might be a little naive and too-trusting of them but did I have a better option?
Our history and relationship of thirty-five years clawed its way to the surface: Maggie was my best hope. I’ve always been able to trust her. I remember that. I could not recall a time when she had ever – EVER – betrayed my trust.
I silently chanted to myself, “I can trust Maggie. I can trust Maggie. I can trust Maggie.”
During the post-operative period following the removal of my right colon, the intensity of my dependency on my wife rivaled my need for water. In the hospital she served as interpreter, she served as personal chaplain, nurse, and guard dog. She did not leave my bedside for longer than twenty-minutes. Once home, she prepared the doctor-ordered “mush meals” and stood just outside the shower stall while I struggled to return to normal hygeine habits.
My vulnerability during my eight-week recovery period, especially early-on, was frightening and intimidating. The medical staff at the hospital were exemplary but they did not love me. The power of the trust and relationship I have with Maggie kept me emotionally stable during my time in hospital and recovery at home. When I would panic, she would bring me back. When I would sob, she would listen and hold me.
To be human is to be vulnerable and dependent upon others. I am an emotionally healthy and independent individual but I still need others. It is how humanity is made.
Emerging from these challenging months, I am thankful to have had a beloved who interrupted her own normal routines to be ever-present with me. Love is like that, though. Love takes bad things — a health crisis in our case — and encourages and nudges us to create good out of it. The more than thirty-five year love and bond between my wife and I has grown in surprising ways using the raw material of weakness, fears, and vulnerability.
Love, that Divine glue that connects us with one another and with each rock, atom, and animal, uses chaos as the raw material for good. Created in the image of the Divine One, we too can create and expand love out of the chaos. All we have to do is claw our way out of our paranoia and suspicion of others and learn to trust one another.
When God began to create the heavens and the earth— the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters…God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good. (Genesis 1: 1-2, 31 CEB)
This is the third of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy.
Following my surgery I had a myriad of feelings. A myriad of web searches to find the stories of others, perhaps to validate my own emotions, left me empty handed. And, so, I write these posts to process my very real feelings and in the hopes that someone else finds them useful following their surgery and recovery.