THE PHONE CALL

phoneA dear friend of mine is going through the hell of waiting to hear if she has cancer. There was a funny spot on her chest x-ray – that was a few days ago – and since then it has been a series of doctor visits and tests and sleepless nights.

She is the same person she was two weeks ago but now the knowledge that she may have a serious illness is always present in her mind, never leaves her heart – and all because that fearful thought has been planted in her mind.

We have all experienced that kind of anxiety. We hear in our mind the words that will bring comfort or terror. We review what we did or did not do to create this condition. We imagine all the scenarios and outcomes.

In any crisis, the worst part is the waiting, the not knowing. It may be as simple waiting for news about the pet who is missing and has not been home for two days or as complex as the final days of a relative. After a while, just to end the excruciating pain of waiting is enough – whatever the outcome.

At one time or another we all get that phone call – it may come in the middle of the night or late in the afternoon. It is the call that tells us about an accident, a death, a diagnosis – and when we hang up the phone our reality has changed and will never be the same again.

When the loss of the known is threatened, the mind can be filled with terror. How to react, what to do, where to go, who to turn to?

We are told to … pray for a miracle, heal our inner child, exorcise our demons, be a vegetarian, lose/gain weight, take vitamins, exercise, have our chakras balanced, get our aura cleansed, be more positive, be more humble, be more determined, fight harder, start envisioning, try to surrender, stop smoking, stop drinking, start meditating, fast, have our colon irrigated, do drugs, don’t do drugs, etc.

When it comes to serious crisis everybody has an opinion but nobody has an answer – because there is none. I know people talk a lot about the power of positive thinking and the healing power of prayer and I believe that both are true – but it doesn’t happen all the time for everyone no matter how much they want it or deserve it.

Maybe we get sick because it’s genetic, maybe it’s from our lifestyle or our environment, maybe it’s stress and pressure, maybe it’s poor mental health, or maybe it’s ‘just because.’ We don’t always know the answer, know the cause. Ultimately, the why of it doesn’t matter.

All that any of us have is this moment, this day and the challenge is to live it as deeply and joyfully as possible. I think anyone who is a human deserves a lot of credit just for staying here. Life can be hard and a heart-breaker. It takes a lot of courage to keep on and even those who aren’t living a so-called good life deserve compassion.

Some people say that this earth is a classroom and we are here to learn lessons. If this is true as far as I can see there are only two lessons being taught here; to learn what love is and to learn to have courage.

No matter how well we take care of the body, it will eventually start to fail. Everything of form eventually changes to the formless. Even the sun will die. That is the part we don’t like to talk about, think about, look at, because we are powerless to change the inevitable. Yes, I know I’ll have to die … but not yet!

All of the great saints and avatars have told us that life is eternal but the life they are talking about is not this life on this earth or in these bodies. I think we have another body that some call a soul and that is the part that never dies, that is never frightened, that is the source of this love and courage.

And so my dear friend to you I say no matter what happens in the future you are not alone. All of your friends are here standing with you to lend you courage and to celebrate life.

SPARE CHANGE

Today on my way home from the library I was driving up Watt Avenue just past the small mall with the big Macy’s store when I noticed a gray-haired woman at least 60 years old standing on the sidewalk holding up a cardboard sign. It read “Need money for medicine – Cancer.” Ah, my heart missed a beat as the automotive caravan rolled by her.

It has been my habit to keep a few dollar bills in the car to hand out on such occasions as this but today I was driving in the third lane over and could not easily segue across two lanes. Just as I was deciding how to maneuver to the far right and perhaps making a turn into the mall parking lot I saw second person holding a sign with the same message – “Need money for medicine – Cancer.”

This second sign holder was an old man – probably her husband – who was sitting in a folding metal chair with a portable oxygen tank with a thin plastic tube running from the tank to his nose. By the next red light I had turned into the parking lot and then drove down the exit road directly beside the sitting man. After pressing the button that rolled down the far window I held out a few dollars. He got up from his metal chair, stumbled over to the car, accepted my donation and thanked me.

I could see that he was not used to this give and take of the street corners for he did not have the smooth “Thank you and God bless” of more practiced petitioners. Rather than the full eyes-on-eyes exchange of war veterans, homeless men or drug addicts, I saw in the quick glance from him, eyes that held embarrassment, resignation and futility.

As I drove back into the mainstream of traffic a sob escaped as I thought, “It’s a good thing we’re in a Great Recession instead of the Great Depression. It’s a good thing we’re one of the richest countries in the world and don’t need socialized medicine. It’s a good thing our politicians are honest and our bankers humanitarians.”

It was clear this elderly couple had once been a part of the now disappearing middle class. They looked like people who had paid mortgages and gone to church and quietly made plans for an uneventful retirement.

What had they said to each other last night as they prepared for today? What had they thought when they used the big black markers to make their signs? And tonight when they go home – wherever that might be – how will they feel when they count the money given to them by strangers? Will this money pay for chemotherapy? Buy another tank of oxygen? Will the medical establishment or insurance companies dole out another day or week of life?

I hope that today they have received much more than the money they requested. I hope that they have realized there is no shame in asking for help and that they are not alone. I hope tonight they will have great comfort in being together and as they go to sleep they will feel they are loved and cared for in this unknowable universe.

They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,

When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.

They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,

Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

 

Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.

Once I built a railroad; now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;

Once I built a tower, now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

 

Songs of the Great Depression: “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,”

lyrics by Yip Harburg, music by Jay Gorney (1931)

( I think the photo is by Stiglitzs)