Early morning found me preparing baggies of dog food for 5 days. Mo was headed to Doggie Camp while Sherod is in Fort Lauderdale, and I am getting through a series of days that will extend well into the evening with work-related meetings. I left Mo in the care of two winsome young women who fell in love with him and he with them and then met up with my friend. She and I headed up the road to Birmingham; our original plan was to go shopping, stop at a favorite plant nursery on our way back, and do as we do often, talk and laugh up the road and back. But two things happened between when we made those plans and when we were ready to hit I-65. They changed the landscape of the day profoundly.
Our first stop was at the heart transplant unit at UAB. Last Saturday, a kind, gentle, lovely man got a new heart, a new heart he desperately needed to live. I was blessed to receive the texts his wife sent giving us updates as the night and heart transplant progressed. It was beyond breath-taking to follow the steps taken from early afternoon to late into the night, and to be able to stop at the beginning of the 8 o’clock service on the following morning to say to the congregation, “Some news is too good to not share right away. Last night, D got a new heart.”
A few wrong turns (UAB Medical Center is a space big enough, and complex enough, to hold the hopes of a family who has heard these words: “the surgery went well. His new heart is beating as it should”), and N. and I were in a room that seemed too small to contain the new world given to D and his family. We visited. We strained to hear and truly comprehend these words from John: “Abide in me as I in you…As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” We ate almost tasteless bread, drank tiny sips of wine out of something that looked like it belonged in a doll house but was a chalice capable of holding wine that is both ordinary wine and so much more. We spoke past knots in our throats and tears in our eyes, and then said our good byes.
I had another, more unexpected stop to make. Yesterday, M., our new and ever-so-dear friend, whose horses we keep and with whom we laugh and visit often, in our pole barn that smells of horse manure, and hay and country, stopped to see me. Sherod had already left for Fort Lauderdale and I was puttering around, doing evening chores. M and his wife had been planning a trip starting today, but now, M. was absolutely torn. Probably his most bestest friend in the whole wide world, whose cancer had gone into remission and then come roaring back, was at UAB, just barely clinging to life. M. and I talked about what it means to be a friend when it is time to say good bye; the grief etched deep in eyes that have crinkled as he and his friend laughed and giggled on many a day. There is no room for empty promises that “it’s all going to be fine” at moments like that. All I could do was promise today I’d stop in and say a prayer with his buddy and family.
A few more turns, though less lost as I headed to that second destination, and it struck me that UAB is also a space big enough to hold an ocean of tears and loss. M’s friend was in too much distress when I arrived for me to meet him, but I got to meet his brother and sister-in-law, was privileged to hold a picture of the two buddies. When I looked at it, I thought to myself, “Oh Lord, the angels will quake the day these two meet again in heaven, and they will make God laugh so much the skies will thunder.” All I could do was pray from a distance and trust that, as M’s friend finds his way back to the earth whence he came, and the Creator who breathed life into him, he will know himself loved in a way that transcends everything else.
I stopped in one of the restrooms outside the NICU, got out of my clergy collar, and headed for a very ordinary rest of the day, watching a friend try on different lipsticks, shopping at Whole Foods and coming home to hug my dad, feed my cats and the dog here at home. The house is quiet, just us girls: chickens, cats, a dog and I, keeping watch this night.
Today, I got to see what it means to get a second chance in a way that speaks of miracles. I was just an ordinary human being and friend for a nice while too. And tonight, my thoughts are with M., his buddy’s family, his buddy, who got a second chance for a few years and now turns his face to the vastness of what we do not know. The words that echo, precisely because of everything that filled this day are these:
“We are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” (BCP, p. 499)