I want to say to God, is this your idea of a plan, because it sucks.
We are told that God has a plan. I have a plan too, and mine’s better.
My plan is that my friend John won’t die.
This time last year he and his wife were in Tuscany. I imagine them driving through the hilly countryside with red poppies growing in the ditches beside the road, and wild iris in bloom between the rows of olive trees.
Last winter John caught the flu, which turned into pneumonia. He couldn’t shake it off. He continued to have difficulty breathing, and in January he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis.
By the end of March, the smallest effort exhausts him. He is skeletal. When I put my arms around him, I’m afraid something will break. He has no future beyond the next breath.
Just about everything is wrong with this. I want to say to God, is this your idea of a plan, because it sucks. I suggest a few alternatives such as people not getting sick in the first place. Or only hateful people getting sick.
John’s body shrinks. I take his hand, and it is nearly weightless. It reminds me of picking up a bird that’s hit the window. I am surprised by its warmth. His bones are so fragile. I can see the joints of fingers, hand, and wrist, and all the intricate connections beneath the skin. The beauty of it takes my breath away.
There’s a fierce vitality in his eyes as if his life force is concentrated in two points of light. Soul-light. Reaching through him, spreading radiance. It’s travelled light years.
Meanwhile, my nectarine tree sheds pink blossoms on the windowsill. A goldfinch embroiders the air with song. Meanwhile, hepaticas open. Diane helps her lambs to get born. A friend’s cancer has stopped growing, and John is still breathing. It’s enough.
Everywhere there is mercy. He is hooked up to an oxygen generator.
The community quietly forms a network of love around him. A neighbour chops wood every day and fills the log cradle next to the stove. Someone prunes the apple trees, hangs a door, does the shopping. People bring food.
For now we do whatever can be done with love, and soup, and chocolate. We listen with our hearts. John talks about getting better. We don’t look away.
We take him books. When he can’t hold them up anymore, we will go and read to him. We’ll tell him whose baby has started walking and who’s bought a new truck. Who has left the island, who has come back. What the price of gas is. There’s a new cook at the pub.
Meanwhile, we sit with him and watch him leaving us with every breath. His lungs are matted with fibroids. We sit with our grief and discomfort, and our desire to run away from this, just to reassure ourselves that we are still alive.
But we don’t because this isn’t about us and our common human aversion to being confronted with sickness and death. This isn’t even about sickness and death. It’s about love. So much of it is getting passed back and forth, it’s like fairy dust, bright particles suspended in the air.
It touches all of us in our net of magic that we’ve woven around our friend. Some of it escapes and drifts away. It’s carried on the wind and the backs of birds. Over trees, across fields and fences until it settles on other people, and possibly sheep and cows.
We love, we grieve, and we agree to be broken. Somehow we are made better by this.
Maybe that was the plan.