The beginning of the push happened on this past Sunday. Where it has lead is right back to my beginning.
It’s the edge on a hand-woven blanket being put on meticulously. And it makes the square piece of cloth what it is to become. My life comes across to me, now, as a crossing, an interweaving of threads, that, when it comes to the completion, defines who I am.
And then there’s the memories that are coming to me.
Holding the thin, frail hand of the woman who would die the next day, reading to her from the Book of Common Prayer, her sighs telling me that the words were filling her up like rain drops in a wooden bucket.
Or the young man who was dying of AIDS, who was too ill to get up off the toilet, so I sat on the other side of the bathroom door and listened to him talk about his teeth falling out, and his anger at a past lover, and the feeling of being abandoned by the world.
It’s all about connections. Connections that have been, connections that are, and connections that have yet to be made.
It was there Sunday morning, all laid out for me to see: I am to pick up work that I have put down these past years. But not just as a few hours here and there, as a little-old-lady volunteer, but as a profession. As what I do in my life.
Teach. Visit the sick and home-bound. Represent the church in its various expressions.
And I could feel that internal hand of mind stretching out for all its worth, putting palm up as though to block the incoming wave of life, and silently saying, NO.
A few years ago I was told, not for the first time, not by a long shot, that I was going to die. The symptoms were there. The doctors all agreed. A few months, nothing more. And, for once, I went along with it. Kind of relieved. Well, maybe not relieved.
It’s here. Death. Let’s do this.
Fine. I was kind of excited.
But, as is “normal” for me the whole excitement faded like a day at an amusement park. The time under massive machines ended. The infinite poking of fingers, the testing of body fluids, the head shaking. All over.
But I was still on some medicines. And one started to make me particularly sick. Doubled over in pain sick. So I was told to stop taking it.
But two weeks later I really doubled over. I guess it was toxic reaction to the medicine that was. A final farewell.
And I vomited. Every half-hour, exactly, on the half-hour I was fumbling my way to the bathroom. And out it came. Like buckets of slop. I didn’t know my body could contain so much fluid.
And the vomiting didn’t stop. It wasn’t the normal bout of illness for an hour or so until the body got its job done. No. It went on for six or seven hours. I actually lost track of the time.
And the volume coming out of me never slackened.
I knew I had to get to the hospital.
But I had on a flannel nightie. Had never changed that morning. And I had been vomiting all day into the evening.
I didn’t want to call the ambulance because I didn’t want to go away in my now damp and crumpled nightie.
You know you’re a woman when you want to get dressed in a dignified manner before you go off to die.
And, as it happened, no one was around. My son was out of town. Others were away doing their thing.
A friend promised to get back and drive me to the hospital. (I didn’t warn him that he was going to have to help me get dressed.)
But he got delayed.
And I just kept on vomiting.
Finally it ended. No one was around. And so I made it downstairs and laid down in my bed.
It felt so incredibly good.
But I was weak. I could barely move. I could barely think.
I felt that I was fading, even though I felt like there was not much light left in me.
For the first time in my life, I actually believed that I was going to die.
So when my friend finally made it and checked on me, I just waved him away and closed my eyes. I don’t know if it just felt so good not to be having to get up anymore to get sick or if I just wanted to keep fading away.
Well. Clearly I didn’t keep fading.
I started this blog as a response to that night, in fact.
But, now, when I look ahead to what I am being called to do, to get out in the world in a very active way, I think of that night. I think of giving up everything, just letting everything go. And I don’t want to pick things up again. I don’t want the responsibility that goes along with the action of a socially active life.
I don’t want to go through the process of having to let go all over again.
But, then, it’s as though I turned my whole being around and looked back over my life. And there it was.
My first vision.
It was the result of a near-death experience. A near-drowning experience.
I remember it clearly even now. How it felt so good letting go even then. Even as a very young child. And I remember the vision that came to me then. And the feelings. The awareness of God, the Father.
His presence. His nearness.
And I’ve come to realize that for my whole life I felt that that experience was a kind of promise. This is what will happen to you, completely, some day. Not today. But sometime later on.
And I’ve come to realize that I’ve lived my life as a sort of bargain: I’ll do it, I’ll follow you, I’ll serve you, just promise me that I’ll completely die one day. And have that experience again.
And so I did get near that experience again on that day of vomiting. The day of the soiled flannel nightie so that instead of ending the day in bright lights and fast-moving technicians, I got to feel the letting go again. Feel the nearing of death.
And savoring that experience.
And now God beckons me to come out of my virtual cave. To be spiritually resurrected and be fully part of the world again.
And I look back on that promise and say, yes, but, what about it?
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.