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Exam rooms, an image, found in Stories of Hope – Living in Serenity with Chronic Pain and Illness (2012), jarred awareness of my bleak past. Decades of autoimmune disease had led me to frequent them, whether in hospitals, clinics or medical buildings. As I relocated from city to city, I sought out the best internists, rheumatologists, and surgeons, their names and institutions stitched above the pockets of their starched medical coats.

Within the narrow confines of exam rooms, I waited partially disrobed, my list of questions curling in perspiring hands. To distract myself, I studied lurid charts of diseases on the walls, peeked through blind-covered windows to the streets below, thumbed through dog-eared trade magazines, listened for footfalls in the corridor. I also prayed. And then the door would click open, my doctor, followed by fellows and medical students filling the space between us.

The routine was much the same: the narration of raw symptoms and ineffective drugs prescribed from the previous visit, the doctors’ touch upon inflamed joints, orders for x-rays and lab work ups, and then, the plan: surgery or return in one month. Little helped. I still hobbled, over-smiling the grimacing.

Now that I’m under the care of the hospice medical director, there are no more exam rooms—Only my dining room with fresh tulips, frequented by sensitive and caring nurses and the chaplain. It is from this room that I’m preparing for my transition, one day at a time. Deep is my joy and gratitude.

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 …

 

Outside my study window the leaves of the seasoned lilac appear mottled, bug-gnawed, its spring symmetry of glossy leaves torn asunder. Change is underway. There’s no stopping it, no emergency measures to prolong what had offered greening to spiking branches tipped by heady purple blossoms. September feels the first pinch of grief.

 

 

Yet, look closely—buds crown tips of branches, anticipating new greening but not before months of dormancy.

What can be said of the Master Gardiner’s empowering all life forms with internal growth cycles—even ourselves, seeded with burgeoning life to be shared in dark times and light? Such fruition plummets us, even now, into the mystery of co-creation.

We are grateful.

 

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