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“Beauty does not linger, it only visits. Yet beauty’s visitation affects us and invites us into its rhythm, it calls us to feel, think, and act beautifully in the world: to create and live a life that awakens the Beautiful.” So writes John O’Donohue (1956 -2008), Irish poet, Hegelian philosopher, and lecturer who sets my spirit a-shivering.

The lakes and mountains of Connemara, West Galway, imbued Donohue’s fluid aesthetics with rich dynamism, order, and harmony. From his stonemason father and Uncle Pete he learned the beauty of spirit and work. Widely read for decades, he culled insights of beauty from classical and contemporary poets and writers and psychologists and braided them into his personal sense of beauty.

In 2004 he published The Invisible Embrace – Beauty, essays articulating this amalgam, now his own; its ninth chapter, “The White Shadow: Beauty and Death,” seized my interest. Given the Creator’s affection for all that is, superimposing the lens of beauty over the underbelly of life reveals a different milieu: pathos. What seems weak, exhausted, broken, stunted, and breathless, is much more.

Such truth scrapes barnacles from doubt’s poison, catapults despair’s insanity, illumines the dying process with hope, and releases headwinds of change—inherent within this new direction is its own intimacy with Beauty who O’Donohue identifies with the mystery of God. Such finding evidences his compassionate listening to the terminally ill and resonates deeply within my psyche.

My study and waiting continues. Happily, I have another companion in John O’Donohue who made his crossing during sleep while vacationing in Avignon, France. So simple … just like his life was among us.

 

Mildred, 83 years old, loner, in dusty bungalow on Hampton Avenue.

Jagged soul lisps for breath in faded housecoat.

Nastiness spews from her flint heart:

“I put my daughter-in-law’s picture in the shit house where she belongs!”

With each defecation, the enmity renewed.

Twinkle Toes, her double-footed cat, keeps her distance.

Ann, 84 years old, born, proper, in St. Louis Hills.

Predictable Sunday dinners starved her family.

Years of laundry work eviscerated soul-yearnings.

The surprise in the mirror: “My hair is white!”

Intruder-killer infects her lungs.

Yet she remains proper.

Juanita, 74 years old, matriarch in son’s bedroom, Northland Avenue, St. Louis.

Frozen in recesses of atrophied brain.

Swollen eyes resemble those of the sorrowing mother.

An occasional drool breaks the silence.

G-tube feedings balloon her dark frame propped upon pillows.

Arms splinted to prevent further crippling.

The extended family watches television.

Marie, 77 years old, chameleon, in duplex, Chippewa Street.

A shadow woman, spent, living within the will of her mate.

Like a flitting moth, she seeks rest, but there is none.

Cataplexy cripples her body-soul, listing to the right.

She carries her soul shell into her dying.

Vivian, 61 years old, victim, in St. Raymond’s Apartments.

Mousy hair spooks hooded eyes.

Safety-pinned sweaters warm her frigid heart, broken by:

her god with thorn-pierced heart,

his mother with saber heart,

her idol priest with heart failure.

Life-long beatings acculturated her to pain.

Soul illness infects her joints, precipitates seizures.

She sits in her chair.

Mildred-Ann-Juanita-Marie-Vivian limp toward end time.

Lethargy constricts their energies.

No distractions dull the pain.

In their emptiness, the emptiness of God encircles them with blessing.

* Hospice patients I have known.

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