Mary is going to die.
She’s opening her heavily-lashed eyelids this morning in a cheap hotel near Mayo Clinic. Are the birds chirping so sweetly outside her window, their high-pitched trills cascading the scale of life’s melodies, up and down, singing out an indecipherable pattern perhaps only known to the birch trees, the sloping hills, the good garden soil back home eager for spring seeds?
I want to roll over and return to sleep’s forgetting. Mary is going to die. Where is that voice rising from? Shouldn’t it be qualified by hope? Shouldn’t it be radiated and chemotherapied before you utter those words even in the privacy of your own head?
Mary is going to die. Sweet Mary. Calm Mary. Peaceful Mary. The minister’s wife snapping her wrists as the bell-carolled songs fill the church. The principal of our tiny school, softly scenting the hallways with her unflappable peace that you feel down below your own churning heart, way down between your ribs, way down into the marrow of yourself–
While her marrow dances with cancer cells, multiplying endlessly in rhythmic frenzy, fearlessly, over-running and over-spilling the vessel that takes everything in like an embracing hug, like Jesus feeding bread and fish to the multitude.
Did she take on too much? What was her flaw? Why did the cancer blossom in her?
I flush with shame remembering too many years in my own life when it seemed utterly possible to read energy like an open book, definitively pronouncing utter proclamations of why this energy pattern contributed to this disease.
You peered a the victim of this illness or that and knew what rigidity, what tension, what stress, what closing down translated into a mathematical equation like: “the tension caused by railing against childhood trauma = heart attack” or “being too nice and always giving to others rather than self = breast cancer.”
Who’s to say there aren’t shards of truth in energy diagnosis? Who’s to say stress doesn’t contribute to illness. I still think it does.
Yet who among us holds no tension in their shoulders? Who among us flows easily like water without stones or boulders tripping us, sending our canoes flying? Who among us knows no friction?
Friction may even be the necessary vitamin destined to keep us alive, growing, expanding, moving Jericho’s walls, writing stories, proclaiming words like “good” and “evil” in an effort to ease our ragged hearts.
Mary is going to die, to die.
How I have grown to love this soft eyed doe in the past year. Although we’ve worked together, how many years now? Three? She’s a person whom I’ve had difficulty reading energetically since her hire.
Everyone lapped love words around her back then, but I didn’t feel it. Strange, as I usually love folks unconditionally in the beginning until their tar oozes out and you see where the roads need blacktopping. That’s not an accurate sentence either. But I love folks sometimes for the essence they seem to exude, like perfume. Ahhh, another scent…
But Mary didn’t meet my eyes back in those days as she furrowed her brow to learn this new procedure or organize the classroom just so and we didn’t bond but slowly slowly the wide smile tilted from her mouth and the kind inquiries sprouted and the lilting laughter burst and soon our friendship grew new buds and the birds and butterflies lingered near our hugs.
Our love grew braided tight together with the song of children at recess, spiritual stories, shared cups of tea, changing the copier toner.
This year, especially, as she’s moved up the ladder of administration and now consults with me daily about forms, grants, budgets and pupil counts we’ve melted into each other’s appreciation and kindness, the way spring suns melt the heavy snows.
This year I dreamed of five more years of peaceful hallways, grinning students, happy forms after which god-willing-the-creek-don’t-rise we could both retire and live happily ever after on our respective retirement crumbs.
The creek rose swiftly in her body and we now wonder–if it can rise in Mary–can’t it rise in all of us as well? Maybe it’s rising now and we don’t even know.
Mary is not going to die, says the teacher’s aide who lost her own husband of three years to the hungry disease a couple July summers ago. On my birthday, in fact, he gasped his last ragged breath and now tiptoes through our dreams. My husband dreamed of him sometime during the harsh and frigid winter where he was helping him escape from some unknown threat of annihilation.
Mary is not going to die, the teacher’s aide says and tosses out at least one concrete example of a fellow with Stage 4 aggressive cancer–same as her husband–who survived, who lived, who beat the odds. It’s not necessarily a death sentence, even when the cancer gets so aggressive and tortured it bites the innocent cells just standing around minding their own business on a groovy Saturday morning in early May.
The radiating light seeks out the bad guys and guns ’em down instantly and if that doesn’t work you follow up with Hiroshima and nuclear bomb all the cells, good and bad, in hopes that leveling the playing field will start things brand new and spotless and spanking clean.
How does one choose these weapons of mass destruction in a precious grab for days of feeling the sun hot on your cheeks, the grasses tickling between bare toes, the sky that eggshell blue breaking your heart just because you’re breathing in and out, in and out, and the unknown bird trills its unrecorded song so sweet that all life’s cages simply fall open leaving all of us free?
Life is a run-on sentence; if you break it into parts the feelings stay limited and categorized. The more you run on the more likely you are to get all the feelings mixed together simmering its own stew, feeding the multitudes.
Mary may die and Mary may live. I think that sentence and its uncertainly feels like an unexpected gift when the giver holds no motive except appreciation maybe overlapping the shore of its pond. Someone leans forward and offers a gift. Your fingers tremble as you unwrap it, not knowing what the package holds. Someone takes your photograph just as your fingers fuss with the ribbon and wrapping paper. Will we like it? Will we hate it?
This moment, frozen forever in infinite possible scrapbooks as the paper flutters helplessly to the ground, the tape unsticks itself and we begin to pry open the box.
Who will live and who will die?
**I just found this story resting in a “draft” folder in an unused email address. It was written in May, 2009. Mary. Thought I would share it here. Mary died less than four months later. Remembering Mary’s spirit with love and appreciation this morning.