Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Removing the sting

I just pulled on my shoes and tied them. In a few minutes, I'll be off to the gym, and then I'll return, shower, make coffee, start another day, a ritual processional. Later, I've got papers to read and problems to sort out. I'll have to prepare for classes.

My wife is still asleep, and the cat has been a pain, just as he is every morning. It's dark outside, and through the night the wind has picked up as if warning of snow, maybe a blizzard. If we don't get one, our neighbors will; it's going to be that close.

Yesterday a robin pulled packed, winter leaves out of tamped down pile in the driveway, tossing them--literally tossing them--to the side in an effort to find a single worm. The squirrels have been feasting, creating little holes in the grass where they've burrowed in to find hackberries that fell from the backyard tree way back in September. They toil, and they spin--but then so do the rest of us.

Our kids came for dinner yesterday, as they often do on Sundays, and we spent a couple hours in the retirement home, visiting our folks. Life as usual. And this morning, right now, I'm creating a magic show once again, strangely shaped objects marching forth on a bright screen before me as my fingertips bounce on the keys, not inerrantly. Life goes on.

Yesterday, a colleague slipped away. She'd had cancer for years and fought a spirited battle that, not long ago, she seemed almost to be winning. She was a very popular teacher. Her enthusiasm was contageous, and she had a penchant for "teaching her life"--for lugging her own story, which wasn't run-of-the-mill, into the heart of the discussions. She left it all in the classroom, the way some athletes do on the gridiron. She was, as a teacher, transparent. As a giver, she had few rivals. As a smiler, the rest of us were and are ho-hum. For several years already, her lessons were providentially weighted by the fact that she was herself an ongoing saga, a woman at war with evil cells within her.

To say cancer won that battle seems short-sighted. In dying--and in the long and anguished ordeal of her death--she likely taught her students more than she might have had she not been absent all those weeks and months. She leaves behind beloved students, loving kids and grandkids, and a grieving husband; but she is, as we like to say, in a better place.

In all my years at this college, only once before do I remember losing a colleague during the school year, and that death was a tragic accident. Cella's cancer made her a center of attention for years, literally. Doug's death was shockingly instantaneous, as bedeviling to all of us as it might have been even to him.

For a couple weeks now, it's often felt strangely inappropos to laugh, almost unfeeling to carry on at the very moment that, not that far away, her children were keeping vigil in a hospice center. We prayed often. I wonder if the number of prayers ever reached a million. Over the years, I wouldn't doubt it.

But, daily during all that time, I pulled tennis shoes on in darkened early mornings, drove over to the gym, worked out, showered, ate shredded wheat or a bagel, and went on.

It's time to go now, in fact.

This morning, the strife is o'er.

That she was a radiant Christian somehow softens things, makes it easier to say that she's finally at rest in glory.

The squirrels will be out in the backyard today, and the robins will be cocking their heads listening for the silence of worms. Life will go on. I've got papers to read, preps to make.

If I think of it all this way--my colleague lost the battle--it's tough to go on. But that's not really true. Finally, she won the war.

And that's as good a reason as any, this morning, for me and rest of the early-risers to head for the gym.


The VanTols said...

I only had the pleasure of meeting Cella once, but it still feels as if I have lost a good friend.

Anonymous said...

She told me at one time that she was in a "win-Win" situation. If she beat the cancer, she would continue to spend time teaching and being with her family and living life to the fullest for God, but if she died, what could be better than that. She truly was a gift.

Mr. Mulder said...

Thanks, Jim. I think Cella would approve this! :-)


Jennifer said...

Just ...

catching ...

my ...

breath ...

as I read this.

I didn't know Cella, but now, here, with you all, I know who she is. See her face on the poster in the library as I head to my own class. Feel the pain of the loss, through folks like you, through the students in my own seats, through those who knew her well.

God does remove the sting, we know, but oh, how it stings anyway ...

Kell said...

Didn't Annie Dillard say something like it's up to us, the living, to carry on?