I sat, chanting healing words at the bedside of my buddy, Greg. Later, I looked around the dining room in which his family had set up his hospital bed. Even though there was much in the field of vision to take in, little of it registered. Oh, I know there was some sort of artwork on the wall. There must have been furniture and lighting and drapes and carpeting. But I couldn't tell you what any of that looked like. On the other hand, I have a very clear image of Greg, his thin body, listing involuntarily to his right as he lay back on the tilted mattress. I found myself drawn to the appearance of his teeth when he occasionally bared them. It almost seemed like a brief smile. Maybe it was less of a response to pleasure or humor, and more likely a reflexive grimace. His teeth may be the only part of him that hasn’t withered in recent months. They are a beautiful reminder of who he still is, even as we try to resist grieving too soon the loss of the person so many of us already miss.
I suspect that my soul, in some ways perceived and continues to process this visit in a manner that defies my conscious understanding or explanation. Part of the reason for this may be due to my stubborn denial about the reality of the situation. At the same time, I'm not unaware of the implications of his return to his home from the hospital, having received no further treatment, and now under hospice care. We all know what that means. We don't know how much time will be allotted to Greg. (True, we don't know how much time is allotted to any of us.) And we have already started making tentative plans for his eventual memorial. Is that crass? I hope it's really just an expression of kindness, courage and love to give thought to how to honor a kind, courageous, and loving man as we all face what we would prefer not to face.
As I contemplate this day I reflect on my many blessings --
In synagogue, each Shabbat morning, the leader of our service asks us to say out loud some of the blessings for which we are grateful. We always hear some, but by no means the full flood of potential responses. It's not just that people are reticent to speak in public, although that may be a factor. I think that it can be hard to enumerate one's blessings. They are either as numerous as the stars, and thus impossible to grasp, or, perhaps, as happens to the stars in the light of day, we are mostly blind to them until darkness falls upon us. So on this day, a day in which I shared sadness and joy, disability and strength, grim resolve and abiding optimism — I am truly grateful to be alive, and to be among extraordinary people — people filled with energy and with love.
Greg reminds me of my brother Jeff, of blessed memory. When Jeff was ill and Greg was still the robust presence we all remember, the two of them met at my daughter's wedding. I don't know anyone else who spent as much time talking with Jeff that day as did Greg. Two compassionate souls — it must've been quite a conversation. In an unkind bit of irony, these two good men were each stricken by a similar brain cancer, and yet, lived what days they had as emissaries of love. I have often wondered why it seems to take a fatal diagnosis for people to be in a position to espouse love without being thought of as a little bit crazy. I continue to ask that question, and I continue to challenge myself to live up to the answer.