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“No, Liz, I’ve never heard a patient say that. Usually, they’re unconscious or subdued by drugs when that happens,” said the hospice nurse as she pulled a chair closer to mine in the study, filled with sunlight. I’d never shared this with anyone, and she seemed receptive, given her years of experience. Her round eyes reminded me of a toddler’s wonder tracking a Monarch butterfly by the seacoast.

“Indeed, I’m happy for you,” she said, still moved by my experience as she unzipped her bag and pulled from it what she would need. “Sounds like it wasn’t the first time. Tell me more.”

I nodded. “Last year I began noticing it at intervals—usually afternoons, during nap times. The whir of the concentrator for my oxygen gentled my eyes as they shut down.

“On the threshold of sleep, though, my body became something else: my arms immobile at my side, my legs slightly bent at my knees, my mind emptied of chatter. No sense data. No colors. Just bliss. Only rhythmic breathing in my chest evidenced life. As these episodes increased, the less time I had to wait for what I began calling, the sinking.”

“That’s fascinating,” she said after jotting information in her computer. “I’m always glad when asked to come by. I learn so much—Did anything else happen yesterday?”

“Yes, the sinking lasted over three hours, longer than ever before, and I found myself practicing going to heaven—I never did that before, but I’m still here.”

Still masked, I felt her smile as she blew me a hug and left.

This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

So proclaims the Psalmist in verse, 118:24

Of special importance is the day, the last one in January and time to change the wall calendar in my kitchen.

This year, the print of Van Gogh’s 1890 Houses at Auvers graces February and mirrors the world of Auvers, northwest of Paris, with its thatched and tiled roofs and summer gardens. Broad strokes of pigment suggest his elusive emotional stability.

But obsessed to co-create with his Creator, his tormented psyche pushed him beyond exhaustion, beyond the minutes in any hour, and toward eventual suicide in July, two months later.

Perhaps an extreme use of time, but one from which Van Gogh’s six hundred or more oil paintings emerged and which still inspire viewers around the world. I have to think he glimpsed the whirlwind of colors while in his mystic fury, simultaneously filled with bliss.

So, what are we doing with this new day, no matter how quickly the seconds collapse into mill-seconds like mixing cups of flour into the liquid ingredients?

Only when very young and in the convent did I learn the significance of the Psalmist’s wisdom to rejoice in each day, a gift. And now, even more…

In the wake of my decision to participate in hospice, albeit palliative care, stuff was emptied from catch-all drawers, linens from closet shelves, clothing from hangers, tools and supplies from the kitchen and garage, clutter in the medicine cabinet and vanity—anything I wasn’t using. From lower shelves of bookcases, I emptied thirty loose-leaf binders that contained analysis of dreams and retreat notes, recorded since 1988. Within three days, a paradoxical fullness filled my home’s emptiness: I was content.

True, my heart did pang as untouched watercolor materials for beginners were bagged up: palette, paints and brush pins, guidebooks, pads of watercolor paper, and tape. A workshop, years ago, had made this art form look so doable, but I never took the time to practice the techniques.

It’s not as if I had much stuff to dispose of, however. Limited energy had restrained the accumulation of clutter: it was too much to look after.

I had also adhered to the decades-old counsel of a wise woman: “The greatest charity that you can offer those you leave behind is to have your affairs in perfect order—no messes to unscramble, no guesswork.”

It’s all about making room for more life to burgeon and flourish. This is Creator God’s work.



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