“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”
“Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this. ~A.A. Milne
It is the final week of a very long academic year and tension is running high.
Among those students to whom I provide care, there are many who dwell deeply in “what if?” mode, immobilized in their anticipation of impending disaster.
I understand this line of thinking, particularly in this day and age of “in the moment” tragedy played out real-time in the palm of our hand and we can’t help but watch as it unfolds.
Those who know me well know I can fret and worry better than most. Medical training only makes it worse. It teaches one to think catastrophically. That is what I do for a living, to always be ready for the worse case scenario.
When I rise, sleepless, to face a day of uncertainty as we all must do at times~ after careful thought, I reach for the certainty I am promised over the uncertainty I can only imagine:
What is my only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong —body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Supposing it didn’t” — He says (and thus we are comforted)
Your days are short here; this is the last of your springs. And now in the serenity and quiet of this lovely place, touch the depths of truth, feel the hem of Heaven. You will go away with old, good friends. And don’t forget when you leave why you came. ~Adlai Stevenson, to the Class of ’54 Princeton University
I was eight years old in June 1963 when the Readers’ Digest arrived in the mail inside its little brown paper wrapper. As usual, I sat down in my favorite overstuffed chair with my skinny legs dangling over the side arm and started at the beginning, reading the jokes, the short articles and stories on harrowing adventures and rescues, pets that had been lost and found their way home, and then toward the back came to the book excerpt: “The Triumph of Janis Babson” by Lawrence Elliott.
Something about the little girl’s picture at the start of the story captured me right away–she had such friendly eyes with a sunny smile that partially hid buck teeth. This Canadian child, Janis Babson, was diagnosed with leukemia when she was only ten, and despite all efforts to stop the illness, she died in 1961. The story was written about her determination to donate her eyes after her death, and her courage facing death was astounding. Being nearly the same age, I was captivated and petrified at the story, amazed at Janis’ straight forward approach to her death, her family’s incredible support of her wishes, and especially her final moments, when (as I recall 54 years later) Janis looked as if she were beholding some splendor, her smile radiant.
”Is this Heaven?” she asked. She looked directly at her father and mother and called to them: “Mommy… Daddy !… come… quick !”
And then she was gone. I cried buckets of tears, reading and rereading that death scene. My mom finally had to take the magazine away from me and shooed me outside to go run off my grief. How could I run and play when Janis no longer could? It was a devastating realization that a child my age could get sick and die, and that God allowed it to happen.
Yet this story was more than just a tear-jerker for the readers. Janis’ final wish was granted –those eyes that had seen the angels were donated after her death so that they would help another person see. Janis had hoped never to be forgotten. Amazingly, she influenced thousands of people who read her story to consider and commit to organ donation, most of whom remember her vividly through that book excerpt in Readers’ Digest. I know I could not sleep the night after I read her story and determined to do something significant with my life, no matter how long or short it was. Her story influenced my eventual decision to become a physician. She made me think about death at a very young age as that little girl’s tragic story could have been mine and I was certain I could never have been so brave and so confident in my dying moments.
Janis persevered with a unique sense of purpose and mission for one so young. As a ten year old, she developed character that some people never develop in a much longer lifetime. Her faith and her deep respect for the gift she was capable of giving through her death brought hope and light to scores of people who still remember her to this day.
Out of the recesses of my memory, I recalled Janis’ story a few years ago when I learned of a local child who had been diagnosed with a serious cancer. I could not recall Janis’ name, but in googling “Readers’ Digest girl cancer story”, by the miracle of the internet I rediscovered her name, the name of the book and a discussion forum that included posts of people who were children in the sixties, like me, who had been incredibly touched by Janis when they read this same story as a child. Many were inspired to become health care providers like myself and some became professionals working with organ donation.
Janis and family, may you know the gift you gave so many people through your courage in the midst of suffering, and the resulting hope in the glory of the Lord. Your days were short here, but you touched the depth of truth and touched the hem of heaven. ~~the angels are coming indeed.
We who have been your old good friends, because of your story, have not forgotten how you left us and why you came in the first place.
For excerpts from “The Triumph of Janis Babson”, click here
Wither me to within me: Welt me to weal me common again: Withdraw to wear me weary: Over me to hover and lover again:
Before me to form and perform me: Round me to rill me liquid incisions: Behind me to hunt and haunt me: Down me to drown indecision:
Bury me to seed me: bloom me In loam me: grind me to meal me Knead me to rise: raise me to your mouth
Rive me to river me: End me to unmend me: Rend me to render me: ~Philip Metres “Prayer”
The truth is: though we prefer to gaze on fresh beauty, to ponder smooth youthful perfection rather than the pocked and wrinkled, the used-up and weary, our prayer desires His everlasting love even when we fall in frailty. We wither from the first day, readying for fruit to burst forth as we, torn and buried, are sown to rise again.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” Isaiah 40:8
The fragility of the flower unbruised penetrates space ~William Carlos Williams from Spring and All (1923)
It is common to look for love only inside the heart of things, pulsing front and center as both showpiece and show off. We think of love reverberating from deep within, loud enough for all the world to hear and know it is so.
But as I advance on life’s road, I have found the love that matters lies quietly waiting at the periphery of our hearts, so fragile and easily torn as a petal, often drenched in tears – clinging to the edges of our lives and barely holding on through storms and trials.
This love remains ever-present , both protects and cherishes, fed by fine little veins which branch out from the center of the universe to the tender margins of infinity.
It is on that delicate edge of forever we dwell, our thirst waiting to be slaked and we stand ready, trembling with anticipation.
Sometimes I’d get mad because things didn’t work out well, I’d spoil a flapjack, or slip in the snowfield while getting water, or one time my shovel went sailing down into the gorge, and I’d be so mad I’d want to bite the mountaintops and would come in the shack and kick the cupboard and hurt my toe.
But let the mind beware, that though the flesh be bugged, the circumstances of existence are pretty glorious. ~Jack Kerouac from The Dharma Bums
Little things can bug us. In fact, like a thistle covered with aphids which entices ants, we can be bugged on top of bugged.
Yet we still bloom. We are on notice there is joy to be found. What solace is this?
Though bugs exult in irritating us, flaunting our flawed flesh, it is a reminder of our vulnerability during our short stay on this good earth, bugs and all.
The rest is all glorious, right down to the thirsty roots that hold us fast.
Each one is a gift, no doubt, mysteriously placed in your waking hand or set upon your forehead moments before you open your eyes…
Through the calm eye of the window everything is in its place but so precariously this day might be resting somehow
on the one before it, all the days of the past stacked high like the impossible tower of dishes entertainers used to build on stage.
No wonder you find yourself perched on the top of a tall ladder hoping to add one more. Just another Wednesday
you whisper, then holding your breath, place this cup on yesterday’s saucer without the slightest clink. ~Billy Collins, “Day” from The Art of Drowning
Some days feel like that: teetering at the top of finite minutes and hours, trying to not topple over life so carefully balanced, even as the wind blows and the foundation slants and the ladder of time feels rickety.
It is a balancing act – this waking up to try on a new day while juggling everything still in the air from the days before.
To stay on solid ground I anchor deep into the calm eye of unchanging love, reminded, once again, I’m held up from above when everything beneath me feels precarious.
Oh that I once past changing were, Fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither! Many a spring I shoot up fair, Offering at heaven, growing and groaning thither; Nor doth my flower Want a spring shower, My sins and I joining together.
And now in age I bud again, After so many deaths I live and write; I once more smell the dew and rain, And relish versing. Oh, my only light, It cannot be That I am he On whom thy tempests fell all night.
These are thy wonders, Lord of love, To make us see we are but flowers that glide; Which when we once can find and prove, Thou hast a garden for us where to bide; Who would be more, Swelling through store, Forfeit their Paradise by their pride. ~George Herbert from “The Flower”
As they are meant to do, the crocuses have melted back to earth the winter snowdrops long gone, the orchard tree blossoms have shed their petals to become burgeoning cherries, pears and apples, the daffodils have come and gone, the tulips are falling apart in slow motion.
Spring in full swing Exhaustion replaced by renewal and fresh air now filled with the sweetness of growth and fruitfulness.
Our fields grow lush and soft with the sun warm on our horses’ withers.
It isn’t enough to celebrate the defeat of winter by blooming where we are planted; when we do fall apart, may we find ourselves never withering again.
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,
“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word that was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:23-25