There was a Friday morning where it felt as if the clouds had cleared a patch in my mind and heart about so many questions from my past - a true moment of peace, of “ah yes, this is life.” Not a few hours later did I learn that a friend had been flown to Denver Swedish Hospital suffering from a stroke, throwing her into a coma from which she would never fully recover. I spent the next seven hours at the ICU with her husband – a man with whom I already shared 15 years of friendship. I would go on to spend some part of everyday with this man for the next two months in three different facilities and, eventually, a funeral home, the two of us driving home from there with his wife’s ashes guarded by his feet in my passenger seat as we headed home, Patti Griffin’s “Long Ride Home” randomly playing on my ipod.
Those two months were rather extraordinary, saturated with the wide-awake Real. There was some of the routine, day-in-day-out as there should be. Yet, almost once a week there were days much like that Friday – days filled with both sides of life, with great joys and great sadness or pain. The regularity kept me wide-awake. A Thursday came when I had another morning of clarity, a washing of the waters, followed by a perfect trail run with a good friend talking about life – the kind that wakes you to the good things. Five minutes after getting home I got a call from my other friend telling me his wife had just died there in the hospice.
I was standing by the bed, in which his wife had died not two hours earlier, making phone calls for him, organizing papers, answering what questions I could. That evening I walked out of the hospice for the last time to dinner and short night’s sleep before I would meet at the funeral home the following day, to be with him as he identified his wife’s body and filled out paper work. A heavy morning for sure. We left the funeral home to catch a breathe over some coffee. He said of her and their marriage: "I would have taken 7 years… but I got 47 years with her. No man deserves what I got with her.”
That day ended with drinks and grilling out on a deck as the sun set in near perfect weather. We laughed, played some games, enjoying a meal that was celebration. Of course, it was the unmistakable real that made the food taste that much richer, the air that much crisper. How could I not be wide-awake to the Real after days like that?
Moments of great peace, of sheer joy followed by moments of heavy pain. Abundance.
It doesn’t take much to dull my senses and numb out. There are so many vices available to push me along that road. But like Puddleglum in Lewis’ ”The Silver Chair,” sometimes I have to stick my foot in the fire to wake out of the doldrums and lulling mundane. Sometimes, though, if I am paying attention, available, then life keeps me awake on its own as I literally go from highest mornings to darkest afternoons with joys and tragedies that arise in and around friendships and life together.
And it isn’t only one’s own story. I had dinner with a friend whom I had not seen in 19 years. As I listened to the story being told inside her journey there were plenty of these moments of great joys and deep sorrows. She was more alive, more herself as a result. And I was able to taste of a different recipe of the wide-awake Real.
It is good to know you are alive even if it takes curve balls to be reminded of it. Keep the pitches coming…