It's been a wonderful and horrible 90 minutes.
An hour and a half ago I met a man in the cardiac rehab clinic who goes by the nickname "Lucky" - he's survived the Vietnam War (where he was wounded and received a prosthetic leg), two heart attacks, and was one office wall away from being incinerated when the plane hit the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001.
Ten minutes after that I met a middle school girl who has an LVAD and two other mechanized apparatuses wired and tubed into her body keeping her alive - all the machinery requires a two-sided backpack and a belt to carry around.
An hour after that, I ran into an old friend, Cindy, who is a middle-aged woman waiting for a heart. When Elise and I started going to the transplant support group, everyone shunned us because we were so much younger than anyone else in the program at that time. Maybe it's not fair to say they shunned us, but they certainly didn't know what to make of us, and therefore ignored us. Cindy and her husband, Dave, were the only ones who reached out to us. Every time we saw them in support group or clinic, they would encourage us, pray for us, and ask us how we were doing - despite Cindy's own situation and obvious suffering. If you've never spent time with someone on a VAD, it would be hard to imagine what I'm talking about.
I was headed to the elevator in the parking garage when out popped Cindy, all smiles and hugs. She told me she'd actually been looking around the hospital for me for months - the last time we saw each other was at a support group where Elise and I were told that if we had children, I wouldn't be able to hold them or snuggle with them. Cindy spent a great deal of time looking for me to tell me what she finally vocalized this morning - "You and Elise can have babies, Greg - just don't take them to daycare. Don't take them to daycare, and you'll be just fine!"
She asked me if I had gotten a heart, and when I told her that I did this past Thanksgiving she literally squealed and jumped for joy. Such effort for someone on a VAD is almost impossible, and yet here she was clapping and hugging me and congratulating me, as if I had somehow accomplished something. She's an incredibly sweet woman, and has always cared deeply about the outlook on mine and Elise's life.
I asked her how she was doing. She told me she had just left Dr. Desai's office, and that he had sorrowfully informed her that her body has become too dependent on the VAD she has lived with for 5 years, that her antibodies were too screwed up, too depleted. Her prognosis and treatment have been altered accordingly - she will never be offered a heart, and she has at most 5 years to live.
I have no idea what to say. She hadn't even told her husband yet - she still might not have, depending on how long her drive home is. It was only then that I recognized the haunted glint in her eyes that she was trying to mask with a big false smile. I know the look, because I gave to many of you leading up to my surgery - it's the look I had when I was convinced I was about to die.
She started crying, and after a wordless embrace I let her go - she needed to be with her loved ones more than anything, and alone if that wasn't possible. I remember.
On the way home, I passed a house where a pile of garbage out front was on fire. Apparently it had spontaneously combusted in this heat, and had spread to the landscaping. I stopped to warn the people in the house, and it turns out they had no idea that the fire had started and was spreading. They were able to use a garden hose to put out the blaze. We couldn't even really communicate - there was a language barrier.
It's two o'clock now. This email started with events 90 minutes ago. And I don't know what to think and feel - I'm still in shock over Cindy. I don't even know why I'm writing this, except that I felt God calling me to write it down and share two verses with you. The first is Job 1:21b - "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away - blessed be the name of the Lord". And the second is Acts 17:28a - "In Him (Jesus) we live and move and have our being".
Driving home in the silence of the car today after seeing Cindy, I was struck by how small and petty many of the things we worry about in this life are. The truth is that we are incalculably blessed with the very gift of life itself. Our lives may be filled with trials, or difficulties, or things that leave us feeling exhausted and depleted. But we are alive. We have eyes to see the sun. Lungs that fill with oxygen. The opportunity to love people and be happy in their company. The ability to ascertain that there are greater things in the world than ourselves - that a true God exists, and we have the ability to know Him. To be known by Him. To breathe Him.
Many of you have probably heard of or read Dylan Thomas' famous poem in which, regarding death, he advises his readers, "Do not go gently into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light". But for those found in Christ Jesus, we are ushered into this world in peace, and drift out of it in peace. In thinking about Cindy on the drive home, I put on a song called "Sweet Afton" by Nickel Creek. I felt it reflected Cindy well - in her there is no raging against the storm this life can be. Rather, it seems to me that Cindy regards life like the stream in the song - "Flow gently, sweet river."
God is sovereign over all of our lives, down to the tiniest detail. There is peace to be had in that fact, if peace is indeed what we search for when visiting it.