It was April 1996. Dusk’s plum-light tinged the vast desert as our TWA flight approached the International Airport in Cairo, Egypt: its strangeness felt like the vestibule of Hell. Such was my experience of the Sahara Desert.

Trackless wastes, undulating dunes, restless sands barely sustaining life, deserts have attracted solitary seekers of ultimate truth: their testimonies rife with new directions that inspire others to change. In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus of Nazareth sought such a place to battle Satan Prince of Devils. The contest was fierce, the exhaustion, severe. Yet such initiated him into his public ministry and offered a template for dealing with instinctual excesses demanding immediate gratification.

Deserts also manifest in the unconscious, light-years removed from actual deserts. Yet, similar austerities exist: loss of direction, thirst, disorientation, terror of the unknown, timelessness. Sorely tried is patience: Only waiting, watching, and praying tease out the new learning.

At times, living with terminal illness crowds out the present task, swallows my ego, and swamps me in grief. Such time-out moments prod deeper awareness of my mortality, given my tendency to flit in and out of denial. Once returned to quasi-normalcy, I pick up the next right thing and re-engage until the next desert experience.

Their cumulative effect shores up my resolve to remain conscious of this process. It seems to be working since signing with hospice palliative care last November.

After each desert experience fresh flowering occurs …