More Alive Than Words

More Alive Than Words September 30, 2016

My mother remains in stable but critical condition in the ICU after collapsing at home Sunday night. She’s had two surgeries for ischemic bowel and been treated for septic shock. She remains unconscious, though responsive to stimuli. In fact they had to turn up the sedation when she got feisty when they took out her central line. (That gave me a unique opportunity to put my massage skills to work — she had cramped up and they had a hard time turning her head. They were going to slip her a muscle relaxant but I worked the upper trap for a few minutes and we got her straightened out.)

There are a few rays of hope but she is still a very serious case. Even the gods may not know the outcome.

But things were even more grave on Tuesday before she went in for the second surgery. Mom is a recent convert to Lutheranism (not for any doctrinal reason over her prior Episcopalianism, she just found a congregation that suited her a little better) and Dad, raised Catholic and now I guess sort of a free-agent Christian, didn’t know what the Lutheran equivalent of last rites were. We were finally able to contact her pastor but Mom was headed to the OR in a very short time, so Dad asked the hospital chaplain to come and pray for her.

I’ll probably have something to say later about the power or lack thereof of prayer, but at this point I’ll take any positive intention for Mom. Between her circles and mine she’s got Christians and Unitarian Universalists and Muslims and Hindus offering prayers, Pagans working magic, and Buddhists chanting.

Still, on Tuesday as the chaplain went on with the “Christ have mercy” bit…well, it didn’t speak to me directly. It meant much to my Dad and so I’m not at all complaining. But it was something I was watching unmoved, not a ritual that spoke to me.

But I looked out the window. Across the parking lot, across the road, a small stand of trees, white clouds in the sky behind. And I knew the Earth is alive, more alive than any words in a holy book, and this comforted me.

Even the view out a suburban hospital window, over a parking lot, shows the Earth is alive
Even the view out a suburban hospital window, over a parking lot, shows the Earth is alive

The next day when I came to visit, I read to her a while from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. (The original, 1855, edition.) Uncle Walt had expressed some of the same idea:

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun . . . . there are millions of suns left,
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand . . . . nor look through the
eyes of the dead . . . . nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward . . . . and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?
I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I know it.

I pass death with the dying, and birth with the new-washed babe . . . . and am not
contained between my hat and boots,
And peruse manifold objects, no two alike, and every one good,
The earth good, and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good.
I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,
I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as
They do not know how immortal, but I know.

I’ve come every day to talk to her, to do some acupressure and reiki and just give her some of the healing benefit of touch. My brother brought a stuffed dog with a long family history, I’ve brought a small Medicine Buddha statue from Japan which usually sits in my shiatsu office, and the hospital’s pastoral services gave her a prayer shaw made by the community. So we’ve got a little eclectic ecumenical magic going here.

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