Odd, isn’t it, how life flows in a predictable rhythm only to be interrupted in patterns that repeat like undulations on a hillside? Today is pretty much like yesterday. This day has the same flavor as the same day last week. All Mondays, are, well, Monday, and there’s a certain comfort to that predictability, with a sense of security and the illusion of control. If I can predict with some accuracy what tomorrow will be like, then I know I can manage tomorrow. I also know that I’ll have a tomorrow.
Sometimes there is an interruption to those patterns. Then another, and another, so that the interruptions become a new rhythm in themselves. These are interruptions that are more than a mere hiccup in the repetition of days. These are themes that arise here, then there, then there again, cropping up as a new image above the smooth flow of a life apparently without end.
And so it is in the days following surgery that a pattern presented itself as a recurring theme in the flow of days.
You already know that a colonoscopy revealed a tumor in my colon. A CT scan showed no other activity, and the lab tests have given a full, clean picture after surgery. The cancer has been completely removed. God be praised for the many hands that continue to work for my healing from your prayers, your calls, your cards; to the discovery of the tumor, to the technology and the medical staff that used it, to Linda, Stephanie, Adam, April, Melinda.
I am more grateful to each of you than I can ever describe. You interrupted the flow of your life to lift me in your concern. You wrote and spoke words of encouragement, bringing a smile in the midst of what could have become little more than depressing news. You took time ……. No, I’ll not try to repay that. I only hope to be as attentive to others in the future.
The book that Linda brought to me to fill in the hours lying in a hospital bed was Jodi Picoult’s Plain Truth. After all, one has to have something to do when one wakes up at 2:17, then again at 2:29, then again at 2:35, then again …… Read a page or a paragraph, drift off to sleep, only to awaken again in a minute or five.
Picoult writes of a fast-paced lawyer who finds herself moving in with an Amish family. “If I had learned anything in ten days, it was that the Amish ways was slow. Work was painstaking, travel took forever, even church hymns were deliberate and lugubrious. Plain people didn’t check their watches twenty times a day. Plain people didn’t hurry; they just took as much time as it needed for something to be done.”
There it is again — that concept of checking a watch twenty times a day. Just last summer, Linda and Melinda urged me to stop wearing my wristwatch because, well, I did just that — constantly checked it to see how much time I had until the next event on my schedule. So I did. Took it off for a family vacation at Ocracoke and haven’t put it on since.
Yesterday came the discharge from the hospital. I think I hugged the surgeon (with his permission of course) at 1:27 and we were packed and ready faster than a Super Bowl commercial. We stopped at the grocery store where I waited in the car. You see, at this point I had accomplished what I wanted: to get out of the hospital. After that there was no schedule to meet, no set time to see anyone. In fact, I had nothing but time. What a precious gift.
Sitting in the grocery parking lot, I had the joy of watching people. This older couple drifting into a parking space just sat for I don’t know how many minutes before getting out and moseying into the store, her hand on his elbow. That handsome dude efficiently pulled his black beamer into a space then commanded his way to the door. That gentleman bumped the yellow pole before getting out to open the car door for his companion, his hand on her elbow. And there was a young man who maneuvered himself from the driver’s seat into a motorized cart, onto a side ramp, out of the van, to the back corner and with the twist of a key closed the van up before driving into the store. That woman waited in the car like me. And a lot of people hurried. Like I usually shop. Get there, get in, get what I need, then get out and onto the next stop. Now how long did that take?
Ah, but there’s a rhythm to sitting in a parking lot with nothing to do , nowhere to be but here, casually watching some of the most interesting people on the planet.
Next stop was for movie rental. Again, waiting in the car. People actually waved. That young man was actually walking from the stores with his purchases. That child easily rambled up the sidewalk on his bicycle. I heard a plane go over. The sun was out on this 60 degree afternoon, so the window was open to hear a birdsong. Linda returned and we broke into the bread to, well, break bread in gratitude for the precious moment that we had then and there.
A couple of more stops, and life had presented me with a pattern.
Just as the reminder came to take of my watch and stop living for the next moment — only then can I even hope to live in this moment. Just as Picoult wrote of a life lived at a pace in which “people … just took as much time as it needed for something to be done.” Just as sitting in a parking lot watching ordinary people leads one to relax and soak in the moment. Just as surgery for the “C” word holds up a mirror of one’s mortality and demands that you take stock of the precious gift that is held in this moment. Not the moment when you will finish reading this email (assuming you’ve even read this far), but this moment right now.
I know authors have written excellent volumes on the miracle of now and the power of staying connected, but it took the repeating patterns to get my attention and remind me of the miracle of now, of the gift that time brings, the grace that flows with each new breath. There is something so precious about an ordinary moment.
I invite you to take a look at the patterns of your life. Maybe the Giver of Life has presented a different theme for your attention, but I suggest that perhaps a theme is there to be discovered like constellations among seemingly random stars.
The patterns that the Spirit of God has presented me are calling me to live life with a bit more attention and a bit less compulsion. I might not reply to an email as rapidly as I once did. I might not return a phone call as quickly as I once did. I hope that you will understand that my silence is not out of any depression on my part, or ill feelings toward you. And if you choose to take my slow-to-respond style personally, then might I be bold enough to suggest that there might — just might — be a theme in that for you? Don’t take my silence to mean anything more that just what it is: silence. Truthfully, I expect that sometimes I’ll just be off having fun, asking my perennial question: Are We Having Fun Yet? Thank God there’s more fun to be had.
Today, the wind beats the rain against the window. Linda has just expressed gratitude for the perfect weather “to come home” we enjoyed yesterday. It’s a gray, dreary Saturday morning outside. Good day to stay inside, sip a cup of coffee and just be grateful.
For life in this moment.
For another moment to give thanks.
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