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Archive for November, 2011

When i went to Afghanistan for the summer a few years ago, i took a guitar with me, thinking that the unfamiliar, impoverished, Eastern way of life might be grist for an interesting batch of new songs. And i was partially right; there was a trove of inspiration. But what i experienced there was so foreign, so unanticipated, and so far beyond my vocabulary or powers of expression that i returned home with not a single piece of music. To this day, i still haven’t written an “Afghanistan song.”  …  It wasn’t that my eyes weren’t open, or that i didn’t want to capture some sense of the place in lyric and music, it’s just that the task was bigger than my toolbox. Perhaps i just didn’t try hard enough; or perhaps i tried too hard to say too much. But it might just be that there are moments in life that are bigger than words, moments that are to be lived and felt without being

i’ve been asked several times, even today, if the past few months — walking through the cancer season with Gary — have prompted any new songs. The short answer is “prompted maybe; produced, ‘no.’” Especially today, on Thanksgiving, i find myself altogether unequipped to express the range of feeling — the joy and the sadness, the powerlessness and the hope, the emptiness and the fullness — that have been part of watching a friend wither away. i’m standing in a new Afghanistan, the difference being that this one has promise where the other was overwhelmingly despondent, that this one is strangely joyful where the other was understandably sad.

That said, i can only report that this Thanksgiving day has been different, mostly in very good ways, than any i’ve ever known, and i sense a gratitude that i can find no words to describe.

Short update on Gary: his condition is much what it was previously. Most days, he takes a morning nap, an afternoon nap, goes to bed early and is quite tired all the time. We’re not sure if that is chemo-related (he took a strong 5 day dose a couple of weeks ago) or the effects of the tumor. Gary remains in good spirits, still insists on desert after every meal, makes us laugh a lot, but is physically exhausted. His daily exercise is a short walk or two (maybe a hundred yards or so, with someone helping him maintain balance) though there are days when even that is a stretch. …  We visit the oncologist in a few days.

Our list of things to be thankful for today is lengthy. Good chance if you’re reading this, you’re on it. Thank you.

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October 31, 2011

I am told that a light year, the distance light travels in a year, is roughly 6 trillion miles. And that the stars overhead on a clear night are hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of light years away. Hard to comprehend.   …  Even without those facts available to him, David the psalmist would look up at the night sky and be struck by his infinite smallness, what Pascal called our “absolute nothingness.”

Tonight, Gary (who rode his bike 50 miles on the morning he was diagnosed with brain cancer) and I took a short stroll (a 200 yard round trip, his new exercise routine) under a very clear autumn sky. We stopped a couple of times, to look up, to ponder, to talk about those stars, all that space, about all the miles that light had to travel to be visible from here. And how big, if there is a God (which we believe there is), He must be to encircle such a vast creation, and how precise He must be to regard the feathers of a sparrow.

We met with the doctors today, to have them interpret the MRI taken a week ago. The short version is a good news/not-so-good news report. The good news is that the tumor has not grown. The not-so-good news is that the tumor hasn’t shrunk. The doctors call it ‘stable’. We are choosing to see the glass half full, consistent with Gary’s comment to the doctors today, “just tell me the truth. It’s all good news to us.”

There is talk of some further treatment – more chemo and a promising new medicine – but we’re in a wait-and-see phase for now. Autumn is colorfully present and we get outside as much and for as long as we can each day. And our sense of reality is bathed in goodness. The Psalms of David, the letters of Paul, the music of Andrew Peterson, the prayers of the saints, the laughter of a brother who has nothing to lose anymore, the tears of a mother who cares with love that “passes understanding”, the constancy of the land that grows and then sleeps and then arises again, the unspoken affection of an old dog, the surprises that come from steel strings on a box of wood, the power of words on paper – oh, the blessing, the fullness, the promise of it all.

I’m not sure that I can say why it is such a consolation to look up on a clear, dark night. Why the bigness, and the reminder it is that we are so fragile and needy, would bring so deep a peace is beyond words to me. But at such a moment, as did the shepherd poet, I know beyond doubt that the Light behind the light, the Bigness behind the bigness, the Word behind the wordlessness, the He Who is over us is the comfort. The comfort that is longer than light years.

(The photo is of Gary and Mom helping me take bird netting off of the blackberry vines.)

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