When Flesh and Heart Shall Fail

sunrise21218

 

(Ten years ago this week, this healthy young college student came to our clinic stricken with seasonal influenza complicated by pneumonia.  His family gave permission for his story to be told.)

 

sunset210181

 

Nothing was helping.  Everything had been tried for a week of the most intensive critical care possible.  A twenty year old man, completely healthy only two weeks previously, was dying and nothing could stop it.

The battle against a sudden MRSA pneumonia precipitated by a routine seasonal influenza had been lost.   Despite aggressive hemodynamic, antibiotic, antiviral and ventilator management, he was becoming more hypoxic and his renal function was deteriorating.  He had been unresponsive for most of the week.

The intensivist looked weary and defeated. The nurses were staring at their laps, unable to look up, their eyes tearing. The hospital chaplain reached out to hold this young man’s mother’s shaking hands.

After a week of heroic effort and treatment, there was now clarity about the next step.

Two hours later, a group gathered in the waiting room outside the ICU doors. The average age was about 21; they assisted each other in tying on the gowns over their clothing, distributed gloves and masks. Together, holding each other up, they waited for the signal to gather in his room after the ventilator had been removed and he was breathing without assistance. They entered and gathered around his bed.

He was ravaged by this sudden illness, his strong body beaten and giving up. His breathing was now ragged and irregular, sedation preventing response but not necessarily preventing awareness. He was surrounded by silence as each individual who had known and loved him struggled with the knowledge that this was the final goodbye.

His father approached the head of the bed and put his hands on his boy’s forehead and cheek.  He held this young man’s face tenderly, bowing in silent prayer and then murmuring words of comfort:

It is okay to let go. It is okay to leave us now.
We will see you again. We’ll meet again.
We’ll know where you will be.

His mother stood alongside, rubbing her son’s arms, gazing into his face as he slowly slowly slipped away. His father began humming, indistinguishable notes initially, just low sounds coming from a deep well of anguish and loss.

As the son’s breaths spaced farther apart, his dad’s hummed song became recognizable as the hymn of praise by John Newton, Amazing Grace.  The words started to form around the notes. At first his dad was singing alone, giving this gift to his son as he passed, and then his mom joined in as well. His sisters wept. His friends didn’t know all the words but tried to sing through their tears. The chaplain helped when we stumbled, not knowing if we were getting it right, not ever having done anything like this before.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

And he left us.

His mom hugged each sobbing person there–the young friends, the nurses, the doctors humbled by powerful pathogens. She thanked each one for being present for his death, for their vigil kept through the week in the hospital.

This young man, now lost to this life, had profoundly touched people in a way he could not have ever predicted or expected. His parents’ grief, so gracious and giving to the young people who had never confronted death before, remains unforgettable.

This was their sacred gift to their son so Grace will lead us home.

 

cloverdrops

 

drizzlesnowdrop

Partly Cloudy with Sun Breaks

danfield
danbarn
When it snows, he stands
at the back door or wanders
around the house to each
window in turn and
watches the weather
like a lover. O farm boy,
I waited years
for you to look at me
that way. Now we’re old
enough to stop waiting
for random looks or touches
or words, so I find myself
watching you watching
the weather, and we wait
together to discover
whatever the sky might bring.
~Patricia Traxler “Weather Man”
danfield2
My farm boy does still look at me that way,
wondering if today will bring
frost,
a wind storm,
maybe fog or mist,
a scorcher,
or a deluge.
I reassure him as best I can,
because he knows me so well
in our many years together:
today, like most other days
will be partly cloudy with showers
and occasional sun breaks.
danpnp
shuksan104172
sunsetdan

Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall

raindrop11816

 

raindrops1315

 

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Rainy Day”

 

raindrop21316

 

fogdrops2

 

One thing I notice about raindrops
(in a lifetime of paying attention)
~each holds within an inner light carried to earth from the heavens~
from remembered Sun above the clouds.
The Sun is still up there somewhere
and I just was sprinkled with it.
Drenched in fact.

 

novemberdropclose

 

 

cherrydrop2

 

Let Us Go In

fog1228141

 

Let us go in; the fog is rising…
~Emily Dickinson, her last words

 

fog101910

 

morningfog910172

 

I have watched the dying
in their last hours:
often they see what I cannot,
listen to what is beyond my hearing,
stretch their arms overhead
as fingers touch what is beyond my reach.

I watch and wonder what it will be like
to reverse the steps that brought me here
from the fog of amnion.

The mist of living lifts
as we enter a place
unsurpassed in brilliance and clarity;
the mystery of what lies beyond is solved
simply by going in.

 

sunrise115181

 

fog101915

 

foggydrops18

 

januarybug

A World of Wet and Weeping

rainywindow

 

My own heart let me more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst’s all-in-all in all a world of wet.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

rainy-windshield1

 

January 1979
Surfacing to the street from a thirty two hour hospital shift usually means my eyes blink mole-like, adjusting to searing daylight after being too long in darkened windowless halls.  This particular January day is different.   As the doors open, I am immersed in a subdued gray Seattle afternoon, with horizontal rain soaking my scrubs.

Finally remembering where I had parked my car in pre-dawn dark the day before, I start the ignition, putting the windshield wipers on full speed.  I merge onto the freeway, pinching myself to stay awake long enough to reach my apartment and my pillow.

The freeway is a flowing river current of head and tail lights.  Semitrucks toss up tsunami waves cleared briefly by my wipers frantically whacking back and forth.

Just ahead in the lane to my right, a car catches my eye — it looks just like my Dad’s new Buick.  I blink to clear my eyes and my mind, switching lanes to get behind.  The license plate confirms it is indeed my Dad, oddly 100 miles from home in the middle of the week.  I smiled, realizing he and Mom have probably planned to surprise me by taking me out for dinner.

I decide to surprise them first, switching lanes to their left and accelerating up alongside.  As our cars travel side by side in the downpour,  I glance over to my right to see if I can catch my Dad’s eye through streaming side windows.  He is looking away to the right at that moment, obviously in conversation.  It is then I realize something is amiss.  When my Dad looks back at the road, he is smiling in a way I have never seen before.  There are arms wrapped around his neck and shoulder, and a woman’s auburn head is snuggled into his chest.

My mother’s hair is gray.

My initial confusion turns instantly to fury.  Despite the rivers of rain obscuring their view, I desperately want them to see me.  I think about honking,  I think about pulling in front of them so my father would know I have seen and I know.  I think about ramming them with my car so that we’d perish, unrecognizable, in an explosive storm-soaked mangle.

At that moment, my father glances over at me and our eyes meet across the lanes.  His face is a mask of betrayal, bewilderment and then shock. As he tenses, she straightens up and looks at me quizzically.

I can’t bear to look any longer.

I leave them behind, speeding beyond, splashing them with my wake.  Every breath burns my lungs and pierces my heart.  I can not distinguish whether the rivers obscuring my view are from my eyes or my windshield.

Somehow I made it home to my apartment, my heart still pounding in my ears.  The phone is ringing and ringing, and won’t be answered.

I throw myself on my bed, bury my wet face in my pillow and pray for a sleep without dreams.

 

fogdrops2

raindrops1315

God’s Keyboard

392613_3049721161175_1428161787_n

 

The whole concept of the Imago Dei (or)…the ‘Image of God’ is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected…

This gives him a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity.
And we must never forget this…there are no gradations in the Image of God.

Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard,
precisely because every man is made in the Image of God.

One day we will learn that.

We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers
and to respect the dignity and worth of every man.
– Martin Luther King, Jr. from his “The American Dream” sermon, July 4, 1965

 

sunsetdrama

 

When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President;
I’m beginning to believe it.
~Clarence Darrow

 

chillychilean

 

Remember the goodness of God in the frost of adversity.
~Charles Spurgeon

 

Hate-filled words leave us frozen solid;
immobilized as our tears freeze in place.

Even when such cruelty leaves us aching,
longing for relief,
the coming thaw is real
because God is good.

Even when we’ve been flattened,
stepped on, broken into fragments —
the pieces left are the beginning
of who we will become,
made whole again
as we were created to be
because God is good.

The killing frost lasts not forever.
The sun causes a glisten and glitter
as ice melts down to droplets
over the thorns.

We become the goodness of God,
His imago dei
His full keyboard
His eyes and ears
heart and soul
hands and feet

Even more so,
we become His tears
no longer frozen
but flowing, streaming, flooding
for one another.

 

freezingrain4

 

 

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart,
and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.
For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
Luke 4:65

 

freezingrain8

Lucky If Nothing Shatters

freezingrain2

 

icyditch

 

Some say you’re lucky
If nothing shatters it.

But then you wouldn’t
Understand poems or songs.
You’d never know
Beauty comes from loss.

It’s deep inside every person:
A tear tinier
Than a pearl or thorn.

It’s one of the places
Where the beloved is born.
~Gregory Orr from Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved

 

freezingrain11

 

We all want happy endings.
But “happily ever after” doesn’t happen
without the shattered hopes and dreams,
broken hearts and painful beginnings and middles.

What we owe to ourselves and our children
is to learn how to forge through sadness,
plow through sorrow
in order to fertilize and grow beauty,
right there in the middle of ugly.
If we aren’t the farmer,
the custodian,
the guardian of beauty,
who will?
Beloved and blessed
ever after.

 

freezingrain3