I drove to the hospital alone the morning of my husband’s open heart surgery. Our son and daughter, Cameron and Lauren, left their jobs to meet me later at the hospital when the surgery was taking place.
I gazed ahead as I drove with a strange detachment, some invisible veil of primal survival masking the potential reality of the situation. Driving became surreal. Scenery passed by like the painted sets of a off Broadway theatre production as Gordon and I are living out the script of our own destiny play through some culminating initiation thresholds of our lives. At such times our modern materialistic life, with all its bizarre advertising on every available surface where the gaze of the eye can fall, surrounds us like a strange absurdity and mockery of existence. Where is our truth? If this were a classical myth, there would be hoary monsters to face, an abyss to traverse, a barren icy mountain to climb.
But this is 2015. In today’s world, we are made oddly comfortable while the high tension of our drama unfolds on the stage set of our own mystery play dramas. The apex of the play, the transformation turning point, lies in the struggle within. My husband had crossed his point of no return with a decision for heart surgery and was lying in a modern hospital bed capably attended by sympathetic nurses, yet besieged by his own thoughts of what lies ahead and challenged to show up with the courage to face them. I was rolling along encased in a bright red moving vehicle, look for signs of hope, like the license plate on the car in front of me, a tree in stunning spring blossom… a compelling figure at a cross walk.
This morning my husband could die.. not likely…but not impossible. That would have many implications. Yet I know that this is the way forward, the choice for surgery. I pulled up to an intersection.. I was several cars back. I look up at the ubiquitous NO STOPPING AT ANYTIME sign at the roadside, my countenance dull and immobile, yet thoughts were careening chaotically around within. Seeing this sign took me immediately to the memory of the story from our dear Japanese ‘daughter’ Chie. When her young and only child, Yasuhiro, was dying from his incurable disease she spent many lonely anguished hours around hospitals. Once she was walking along the city street on an oppressive overcast day she stepped on a piece of metal that had fallen in the strong winds and rain of a recent storm. She was impelled to go back and look at it.. For her the ‘SIGN was a ‘sign” that had fallen down in her path with the admonition.. “No Stopping At Anytime.” Oh, yes. The great theologian Tielhard de Chardin writes words to the effect that our lives are a series of husks of the stages of life in which we might have wished to remain, but life pulls us relentlessly on.
I glanced upward. A large, lone black crow flapped across the line of traffic in front of me with floppy almost ludicrously clumsy strokes of his wings. “There’s the sign of death to overcome,” I thought. Last night when we had left Gordon it was raw, painful and unfinished. He had had a hard day. Understandably. As he awoke that day, his doctor had shown up briefly at the door and announced with clipped efficiency… “Tomorrow morning. Be ready at 6:30”. Gordon experienced the finality of the decision as it first came down hard and then irreversibly. He was still recovering from a painful and blurred week of an intestinal blockage but now it was happening. For sure. That day grandson Nathan came and played the violin for him with the sweet clear tones. It helped. But Gordon was restless, apprehensive, and resigned all at once. The die of this life changing decision had been cast.
A beloved daughter-in- law, Carolyn, had been there in the morning and I was there for the rest of the day. That evening our daughter Lauren came but by that point in the day, Gordon had had it. Even son Cameron who usually chippers his Dad up just by appearing, could not make a difference. ‘Get on with it’ was the only thing that counted now. Impatient with anything less than action, Gordon cut off all the small talk. He was beyond ready and began to shoo us all out and settle down for the night with his nurses.
I had been waiting to close our preparation time together hoping to sing, or read some bible verses and asked to do so. But by the time that came he was done. As we got up to go, he called out. “ Where’s the bible?” I handed it across the bed for Cameron to possibly read. Gordon reached up and intercepted the Holy book. He opened it as he lay there and prepared to read. “What verse?” he demanded of us with authority. Lauren replied without hesitation, “John, 3:16” Gordon turned the thin, gilt edged pages and began. His voice was strong, defying his own mortality and the sounding the words out like a soldier facing the storm of battle. Timeless truths lay behind the words,”For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believed in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He looked up eyes intense, jaw strong. We held hands all around for the “Lord’s Prayer” a quick kiss.. and we left. Lauren dared me to give him a last tag. I returned with a teary smile and did so.
Now it was the next morning and soon his chest would be cleaved, his heart opened up to the world. As the crow flapped and I took it in with sober eyes, the traffic light turned green and I moved up to the intersection. There on the corner by the gas station, nearly obscured behind his large plywood billboard was a man, waving his message to the stream of cars passing by. His bright, paint splashed homemade sign was being exuberantly displayed for all to see. The message was brief… John: 3:16.
I was to travel by that same corner many times again that week but I never saw him again. But how could I doubt I was there at just the moment I needed to be? There was the ‘sign’ the message of the ever present help of the spiritual world. I smiled and drove on to accompany my husband to the final surgery waiting room to meet his anesthesiologist and warm faced surgical nurse, Blanca. In my hand I carried a bouquet of bright red tulips and heavenly scented lilac blossoms from our home, White Feather Ranch, to accompany our quick kiss of good luck and good bye for now.