Reflection is difficult.
A retrospective of the last year paints a complex portrait and a frightening map, documenting each twist and turn of our journey, so many of which might have gone awry on paths not taken, whether by choice or chance. I am intrigued and discomfited by so many places along that path where guided by the Lord's hand or led by luck, a misstep was avoided. I am more certain than ever that the prayers and good thoughts of our friends powered us past pitfalls and proffered the strength and the optimism to fight on.
I have been learning (slowly) that humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. I also learned that hubris is no defense against human frailty. We all carry within us the seeds of our own downfall. When leukemia first came knocking on my front door, I hid in the den, hoping it was just the wind or a bothersome soul soon to go away and darken my doorstep no more. Yet, insistent as a cold Keweenaw breeze, it found its path into my leaky old house, swept away the dust of my assumptions, and scattered the pages of the script I had so carefully written for my life. It was time to learn how to improvise and ad lib. The movie of my life was now a daily serial, and the script was no longer mine to dictate.
In the last 300 days, my focus has been primarily on me: A private morality play with a paranoid twist. However, while I was busy declaiming my lines and discerning my blocking, the audience crept up on the stage with me. The dark comedy, which started as a monologue, grew into a duet, and now has an ensemble cast. I am becoming merely one player on a very crowded stage, and I am thankful there is still room for me to tread the boards a little longer.
I am learning that pancreatitis hurts worse than chemotherapy. I am learning that I am not the only one in pain. I am learning to be a character actor in my own production.
A Milestone Tomorrow
December 18, 1971, Mick and Marian became man and wife. Tomorrow is our 40th wedding anniversary -- traditionally the Ruby Anniversary. For obvious reasons, rubies are a little beyond our budget, but I am certain I can find something red to wear -- especially at Christmas. Our last two anniversaries were disappointing. In 2009, I was already sick, unemployed, and hanging around the house. In 2010, I was in the hospital, undergoing my third round of chemotherapy...we celebrated with muffins (provided by the hospital staff). I could not eat mine. We held hands in the hospital room and prayed for better days and better health for our 40th.
Well, I am doing very well at the moment. My numbers are good and my ongoing blood tests have been reduced to once per month. If all goes well, they will begin my inoculations by March 2012 (just like a newborn) and I hope to be off my anti-rejection medication in January.
A Merry Christmas
I put up more than half of our cache of decorations, accumulated over 40 years of marriage. I want this Christmas to be special because I have learned not to put off such things, depending on next year. Because I have been looking back at past Christmases, I want to share a poem I wrote in 2007. Little did I know it would offer solace and reassurance for me in Christmas 2011.
Long, long ago, in a land far away,
An angel rested upon a high hill.
He'd chosen a comfortable place to stay
On Christmas Eve, and he grew very still.
He listened with all his angel power,
Straining to hear happiness in the air.
A statue on an impromptu tower,
The angel stood still for hours up there.
He heard a few jet planes, as they flew by,
And the clouds, as they drifted through the night.
He heard the stars dancing above the sky,
And the moon banish shadows with its light.
He heard babies crying in homes below,
And mothers crooning to silence their tears.
He heard those leaving, with no place to go
But back to a lonely night, full of fears.
He heard the soft silence of children's dreams,
An old man who snored like a backed up drain,
And couldn't help hearing those anguished screams -
A victim, abused and battered again.
There were voices raised in anger and grief,
And howls of laughter from a local bar.
He heard the footsteps of a teenage thief,
In his first attempt at stealing a car.
Disgusted, distressed, and ready to cry,
The angel stood up and prepared to leave.
He spread his wings and was ready to fly,
When a tiny hand tugged on his right sleeve.
Startled, he looked down into a small face,
With the largest, darkest, most tearful eyes
He had ever seen in all time and space -
Blue-gray, like the stormiest winter skies.
Clad in pajamas, bare feet in the snow,
The tiny waif whispered in pleading voice,
"Please, Mr. Angel, oh, please do not go!"
And pausing a moment, he made his choice.
The angel knelt down in front of the child,
And opened his arms in welcome embrace.
He stroked the child's hair, with hands soft and mild,
And he prayed for peace and for Christmas Grace.
He stayed long hours through the now silent night,
Till parents, searching in early dawn's glow,
Were met with a wondrous and blessed sight -
Their small child, asleep on a bed of snow.
As the child leapt awake at their loud cry,
A joyous sweet sound set their ears ringing -
Far overhead, in the early morn sky,
A joyous Christmas Angel was singing.