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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.

Steal away, steal away

Steal away to Jesus!

Steal away, steal away home;

I ain’t got long to stay here.

Yesterday’s choir honored Junteenth by singing the African American spiritual, Steal Away, composed around 1862. Its yearning to make a radical change, in secrecy, smarts the senses, provokes shortness of breath, enhances identification. Repetitious lyrics and the melodic line afford rapid learning and lodge in the heart-memory. Such is my take on this spiritual, in my present circumstances.

Although Steal Away was composed by Wallace Willis, a field slave of a Choctaw freedman in the old Indian territory, Doaksville, Oklahoma, its widespread use among enslaved Africans is questioned by Frederick Douglass, freed slave and African American social reformer, and other current critics.

The spiritual’s use, as code for fugitives on the Underground Railroad, is also questioned as little evidence substantiates this claim. Douglass maintained only small groups planning escape to the North found courage in singing Steal Away. Such singing the white populace regarded as the “many silly things they do.”—Viewing them as less than human.

I ain’t got long to stay here.

So, the declaration concludes, impacted by strong metaphors: home: realm of freedom and eternal life; thunder and lightning: sources of dangerous energy; the trumpet: instrument of authority used in Old Testament for worship services, teaching, correction, and announcing war; call: a summons that demands immediate compliance, thunder, lightning, and green trees bending that suggest nature’s influence. At work here is the redemptive power of the Lord among sinners, falling short of the mark.

I include myself among them as I wait…

At 6 A. M., I awoke with this uplifting dream: 

It is evening. I stop by the recovery center and discover it vacated, in disorder: ashtrays filled with cigarette and cigar butts, food remnants spoiling on plates and bowls, magazines and silverware strewn on the floor, armchairs pulled from tables stained with water and carved initials, rain splatting window sills, damp carpet beginning to smell. On my own, I decide to clean up the place and locate a bucket, mops, rags, and cleaning agents near the kitchen. Not sure where everything goes, I’ll have to guess. Later, everything is in order. I’m proud of my work and return home.

Again, in the dream, energetic and strong, I find myself in the foyer of the recovery center; its depths prod me to the disorder therein, shadow material, of which I’m unaware: pride, anger, greed, and envy, in all its expressions; shadow material triggered by others. On my own, I remain largely content. Since no one is around to help with this Herculean task, it’s up to me to remedy this deplorable situation.

But my discovery of tools: a bucket, mops, rags, and cleaning agents, near the kitchen, evidence an invisible helper—Perhaps the kitchen’s fire that animates my labor. Strange that I seem to know what to tackle next and do so.

The resulting shine within the recovery center, a sacred place of healing,will greet its guests in the morrow. I’m proud of my work.

This blog’s contrast with “The Unsettling Dream” of a few days ago suggests my fickleness in fully embracing the gentle discipline of the arduous path opening before of me—More correction for which I’m grateful.

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