June 17, 2010
When I took abrupt leave from our weekly conversations I traveled to see my sister who was gravely ill. Caregivers and family feared that she would not live. I am happy to report, however, that she does continue to live although for reasons that medical facts do not completely explain. While this time with her has had a happy ending, the experience has left much to think about.
The day of the crisis came quietly. With family around her, she moved slowly and steadily toward that other world we are aware but do not see. She approached the point of final entry so closely that she sensed the presence of others already resident there. But inexplicably when she reached that final boundary, she paused, then turned and came back to us.
The return to this world has left her slower, frail and exhausted. She sometimes experiences a momentary confusion, but she is now fully present with us, strengthening daily, aware and actively participating in the world around her.
I have returned home. My sister and I talk together almost daily via Skype. We are both amused by and grateful for technology that permits us to meet face to face and that gives Miss Annie opportunity to model her beautiful self as well.
We talk about everyday things: the wheat harvest, Miss Annie’s antics, people and places we remember. We laugh and tell stories. We struggle jointly to recall events and names, piecing together fragments of memories and the shadows of names and half-forgotten events. We share the simple rhythms of our daily lives and play together with the idea-Lego's that interest us both. Neither of us has chosen to focus on the drama of her recent journey toward death and unexpected return. Our awareness of this underlies all that we say, however. In the tradition of prairie women, we confront this mystery for the most part through the sense-filled silence that sometimes falls into our conversations.
“I had chocolate ice-cream for lunch,” she told me one day, then added with a twinkle in her eye, “I had some ice-cream. I didn’t say I had enough.”
We laughed at her reference to a shared childhood memory, a time when our father said with amused exasperation, “There’s never enough chocolate ice-cream for you two, no matter how much I bring home from the store."
“Better than my place,” I answered. “I didn’t have any ice-cream at all. I did have an extra fine cup of coffee with real cream, though, and I sat in the porch glider for a while and enjoyed my flowers.”
“That’s good,” she responded. “Did Miss Annie sit out there with you?”
"Well, in a way,” I said. “But she didn’t sit—she took a nap.”
A thick warm silence came between us. Neither of us spoke; wordlessly, we shared the love that flowed through our connecting space. But we sat together sensing as well the shadow of her recent walk toward the boundary of that other world.
We understand. We see with unblinking clarity what we are living. For us relationally we are experiencing an unexpected Indian summer following a severe early frost. Emotionally we share an Indian summer filled with rich harvest, warmth and beauty. But this season is filled too with the slow downward drift of yellow leaves across fence rows into now fallow fields.
My sister and I are prairie women, and we are not easily fooled.
After Indian summer winter comes.
Thinking with you this week of Shakespeare’s lines:
“This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.”
See you next week.