I have on one bookshelf a collection of favorite books from the early times of raising Hannah and Libby. Fond memories of the family: Laura, dogs ZuZu and Gracie curled up in bed, the girls squealing with anticipated delight as the familiar story lines unfolded. “Caps! Caps for Sale! Fifty cents a cap! shouted the peddler.” Or the tactile serenity of The Snow Tree. The lupine beauty of Miss Rumphius. The mettle of Katy and the Big Snow. The Wild Party of the Barnyard Dance. Tikki Tikki Tembo. We’re Going On a Bear Hunt. The Christmas Reindeer. And many more. But there is one book, What You Know First which pulls my heart right out front. With simple text and exquisite artwork, the story is as much about going away as it is about going somewhere. It is about loss, fear, wonder, love, family and the longing for a sense of place. It is one of my favorite books and also one of the saddest I know.
I am a passionate person. Our best qualities can also be our downfall. I have to be careful lest I get swept up and carried away by the high tide, left to drown in the ocean. Or just simply pulled every which way by rip currents, ultimately dragged over the coral, smashed against the rocks. When I was a child, on the beaches of Avalon, New Jersey I was once swept away by a rip current. I remember seeing my family ashore and realizing that I was being carried off. I yelled to them. They could not hear me. I was getting tired from fighting the water’s force. A calm washed over me. I had this sensation that I was about to let go. Not give up, but to let go. To slip into the deep. And it was OK, This dream state was interrupted when I was rescued by a lifeguard. I was probably eight or nine.
Letting go. The egg. That was grandma Bennett’s egg. She was a china painter. The date was 1972 so I was 5 when she painted it for me. I have other items she painted from her large shop of china, imported from Japan, France, Portugal and her travels around the world. But the egg was special. This and a small mug with a dutch boy with my name she had painted for me. Somehow, over all these years the egg and the mug survived.
I don’t know what to make of omens except to say I suppose we find messages and meaning when and where we need them most. When the egg casually, and, as if by its own force, rolled off of my bureau, I watched in slow motion as it fell and smashed to the wooden floor. I put the pieces in a bag. Rather than try to glue it back, I think I might bury them. Omen? My health continues to challenge, vex, harrass as one might discern from the images indicates a fourth surgery, a cyst now removed and build up of CSF ( cerebral spinal fluid) causing pressure. I will know more soon. The challenge is that because of the uniqueness of the tumor ( grade III anaplastic astrocytoma/ependymoma) there aren’t any clinical trials nor treatment protocol.
Recently I spoke with a woman at a conference who was walking in the same direction as I. Within two minutes she asked if I had taken the Lord Jesus as my Savior after finding out about my cancer. I kindly shared that I had not done so but that I thought that he sounded like a pretty cool guy from what I had heard. She didn’t miss a beat and then asked me where I sought spirituality. I replied that this is a life journey, that I was willing to consider any point of view, that my Quaker schooling and Jewish upbringing informed some but not all of my views and that my place of peace is in nature, on a ski trail, a hiking trail, sleeping beneath the stars or floating in the ocean. Nature was my cathedral.
Expecting her to take me further down the Jesus road, she simply smiled, shared that when we are in the natural world we ARE in the presence of God. That sounded good to me, whatever God means. Finally, as we reached the doors to the conference she shared that she had had open heart surgery and that she felt that this health challenge had been a wake-up call and opportunity for her to get right with the lord. Amen to that sister. Amen to that. LET THE MYSTERY BE! David Byrne and Natalie Merchant