Monday, February 7, 2011

Still Living

I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord.
Psalm 118:17

That’s our hope, of course—we aren’t going to die. I used to think I wouldn’t die, period. I was young, or at least healthy, or at least not in too bad a shape. I still had a lot I wanted to say about God and wasn’t planning to check out.
            “Nobody is dying today—the crisis is over,” a friend said recently about a situation in which someone might indeed have died, but was instead making a miraculous recovery.
            I thought of all the “little deaths” that poet Carl Sandburg told us to keep away from. I’m struggling now against the death of hope, fearing that every few months something else will go wrong, even if my cancers remain in remission.
I think I most resent the loss of a carefree attitude toward my health, which I can never again take for granted. I’ve experienced the death of confidence. Just because I feel fine doesn’t mean that my body is functioning optimally. Several recent diagnoses have been asymptomatic; they required a blood test or a CATscan to find.
I’ve also lost open space on my calendar. This month, I have three doctor appointments. That’s not counting the ones I should make and haven’t, such as my annual mammogram and my dental exam.
            Gone, too, is the sense that I have any discretionary money. It flows to the hospital, the radiologist, the lab.
            Some days all these little deaths circle me, moving like a flock of vultures spying a wounded animal, their black wings hovering, swooping, wheeling. I am tempted to pull up the covers and stay in bed, to sit on the sofa staring at nothing.
            I will die someday. Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, I don’t have to do it now. My task meanwhile is to focus not on the inevitable dying, but on living and declaring the works of God. Even living with cancer, I have plenty of divine blessings: a kind and very bright doctor, warm blankets tucked around me when I spend an hour or two drinking barium before a CATscan, the prayer support from friends and their churches, the nurses who allow me to cry on them, the joy of singing, the taste of chocolate, the grace of deer out my back window. Life is so abundant, with mercies new and fresh every morning, as the writer of Lamentations wrote, in one of his more cheerful moods. Death can wait—it’s time now to magnify the works of God.

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