I was feeling fatigued after my morning radiation treatment and a bit nauseous, too. These are the two great side effects I suffer from. I beat off the nausea by eating, so I drove over to Starbucks to get a cheese Danish. I shouldn’t be eating this type of food (dairy and sugar) but it’s incredibly satisfying. I bought the pastry and headed toward the car.
“Sean!” someone yelled.
I turned. An old friend waved from the parking lot. He walked over in a slow stride. He’s from New York and looks like a retired cop might look. Worked out. Tight haircut. He’s quick to say something sarcastic and laugh, but in a way that leaves you feeling cold. The economic down turn hurt him. He suffered some blows in his personal life. Our kids were the same age. We refereed soccer games together. I bumped into him at parent night. He was my neighbor too. “I’m real sorry about your situation. I love you and your family.”
His open affection stunned me. I took another bite. The best part of the Danish stuck to the roof of my mouth. The car door was ajar. My body half way in. I know that this man has changed some. I’d seen him out walking past my house. We’d chat. He dedicated a lot of time to practicing yoga over the years as well as other spiritual practices. His cut frame and serious face were at odds with his watery eyes.
“I’m going to India for two months.”
“Yeah?” I said. He smiled as if to say, can you believe it? Me?
“I’m taking a course for a month and traveling,” he hesitated, “I’m going to pray for you at every shrine I visit.” We hugged. I got into my car. Choked up. My emotions were not so close to the surface anymore but his words opened me up again. I felt as if I had just met someone I didn’t know and it was me. I get so much wrong, so often.
When I got home there was a Honda Fit in the driveway. A Korean woman who I knew well. She used to work at the parish as a cook and care-taker to the priests. Short. Tough. Difficult to understand at times. Heart of gold. She had an expression on her face as if she had been wronged. Maybe she was mad that I didn’t tell her? She spoke quickly. I didn’t catch any of it, but she hugged me and I knew I was safe.
“I brought you some Korean food,” she said. She had jars of tofu with sesame seeds, vegetables cooked in garlic and a separate mushroom dish. She had other gifts as well. She pulled out an alter she got from Lourdes, France. This is where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette. It’s a famous pilgrimage sight for the infirm. She gave me holy water in a plastic bottle in the shape of the Virgin Mary. “Of all the holy places I’ve been this is the most powerful,” she said. I put her food on a plate. Micro waved it. She sat next to me and watched me eat. I chewed .She spoke of the medicinal qualities of Korean food. Then she told me a story about an older man she knew with cancer who lived in a big house and his care giver, a younger beautiful woman, nursed him to health. He went into complete remission. They married.
“Then one day he climbed a tree to trim a branch and he fell and died.”
She laughed until tears ran down her face.
Later, I sifted through the book shelf and spotted Tim O Brien’s collections of short stories, The Things They Carried. One of my favorite pieces of fiction. Especially the signature story which methodically describes the weight of things, both physical and emotional, carried into the jungle by soldiers in Vietnam.
People bring me all kinds of things. They bring in their lives masked in the most mundane ways. Green tea, mushrooms, novels, spiritual books, feathers, lavender, casseroles, boxes of fruit, ginger jam, Mass cards. The list goes on and on, but what they really share with me are their hopes. Their vulnerabilities. Their struggles. The absurdities of their lives.
I’m on a good run right now. I’m almost done with radiation and I get two weeks off for my body to recover. Then I start my “chemo pill.” I’m enjoying every single gift I receive whether they come in the form of a visit, a box, or a phone call. My cup runneth over!