At last I've trundled a ways down the river path again, in shiny sun.

After a pause at the water's edge I wandered on into a familiar tree-lined corridor, even though I felt the burn of unused muscles. I was ready to turn back for home, but I couldn't help thinking how one never knows, in the brief warming autumn hour, exactly whether there will be another chance to push a little and go there.

My summer's experiences inspired this thinking.

The sun shone hot in late June the day Mom drove me to emergency. (This was to be the first of three ER visits, along with two ambulance rides and two hospital admissions, plus surgery, ICU, and lots of hours spent in the cardiac wing of Riverbend hospital.) Intense pain and difficulty breathing naturally made me wonder if today I might die. I recognized clearly that I wasn't ready.

Of course I was unready to leave family and friends. But in that moment I became very aware of my unreadiness regarding the end of this life, my spirit's separation from my body and experiencing what's next.

I didn't think about this in a despairing way. I prayed, as I've practiced many times, "Lord have mercy." Not considering God's mercy in the deep, judgemental-sounding voice of British actors in films where gallows victims prepare to hang: "May God have mercy on your soul." My belief is that mercy triumphs over judgement and is a free a gift, as free as sparkling ripples in the Willamette.

I wasn't terrified, but I was sorry. I knew I hadn't been paying attention half as often as would be beneficial. I was like a hiker who's signed up to trek the Pacific Crest Trail, looking forward to the gift of closer sky and the crunch of boots on dirt, the scents of cedar and campfire and the amazing vistas, none of which I created or imagined, all of which lie ahead to be experienced. But I was also like the person who prepares for this backpacking adventure in spurts, distracted often by everything else, unacquainted with maps and tools, hoping it'll all come together okay, anyway.

When a person has decided something is important, to the point of talking about it in anticipation and making some room in life for its approach, and then the person sees herself still pretty lackadaisical about the thing, there are options. One is to turn away from it altogether. Another is to seek help from others to make up for her lack. A third is to lunge into this impending appointment with everything she has, stumbling through mistakes and hardships to achieve her goal. There are more, I'm sure.

While in the hospital I faced into several options as I saw them regarding my heart's beliefs about life and death.

It was good for me. I feel, on the one hand now, like sharing on this blog every humanistic and theological nuance that arrived within my muddled waters. But trying to do so gets rather preachy and bogged down fairly soon. I'll say, for the moment, that I made a definite decision. While life is always changing, I'm not always aware of it. This summer, I knew my life changed again. I was brought to the point of seeing this, and I'm grateful.

Perhaps this is what each person is doing along the path toward the ending we all face. Taking steps toward seeing what's going on inside, being a bit chased sometimes by what happens, in order to be able to pause and make definite choices. Free beings that we are, let's push ourselves a little in the warming hours and go there, and decide. We don't know exactly whether another chance will be.


Fresca said…
Wow, thanks Deanna, for sharing your view from the edge.
It's always so humbling and encouraging to read reminders like this. I feel I catch hold of what I feel is important, and then slowly, slowly lose my grip or my attention and slip away.
But then I take hold again---life or a friend or something somehow reminds me, like here.

I've just been reading Henri Nouwen--have you read him? (Dutch Catholic priest)
deanna said…
Hi Fresca, and thanks for these words. Reminders are so essential, I've been reminded. :)

I think I have read some of Nouwen's work; if I'm remembering right, he was quoted and referred to by the author of one of the first books I read when becoming Orthodox. (Did he write something about the prodigal son?)
Fresca said…
Yes, that's right, Nouwen wrote Return of the Prodigal Son, a long meditation, reflecting on the story and Rembrandt's painting of it.
I read it when I was entering the Catholic Church and loved it... but that's 18 years ago.
I should re-read it and see what I think of it now.

I've been reading in his The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey from Anguish to Freedom, which I picked up from a Little Free Library box (my serendipitous book chooser)---it's short diary entries--exhortations to practice faith--that he wrote during the darkest time of his life, so full of anguish, as the title says.
But I appreciate that: faith that doesn't encompass anguish and doubt... what'd be the point? :)
deanna said…
Right; the book I read was about confession (its history and why Christians do it). I'll have to recall the Orthodox author's name, who'd been a friend of Henri Nouwen.

Yesterday at my bookstore shift I jotted down a quote by a Russian nun, addressing anguish and doubt. She says true spirituality is "not a knowledge you learn but a knowledge you suffer."
Dee said…
Dear Deanna, remember that line "the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts"? The thoughts of age are also and yet I find myself being at peace with not doing as much thinking. I've had a tendency to analyze too much--both myself and the situation. And so what being ill this past year has lead to for me is to simply be content with where I am today. Where I am in thought and mind, in hope and spirit, in understanding and in mystery.

Your year sounds fraught with the touch of death and so your thoughts have led you beyond mine to what is around the road's bend. I hope you do more blogging about those thoughts because they can inform my own going "gently" and also "not so gently" into what is beyond.

I'm wondering if you've read the following two novels by Kate Atkinson: "Life after Life" and "A God in Ruins." Both of them have touched my life with mystery. They are each a tour de force. And what you have experienced the past few months will resonate I think with the stories. But maybe all that is happen is too fresh in your life for you to read these books. I don't know. I trust your intuition. Peace.
deanna said…
Dee, I so appreciate your thoughts. Resting where one is on the path is very necessary sometimes. Being content "in thought and mind, in hope and spirit, in understanding and in mystery." I like that you recognize where you are. I think preparation looks like this, too.