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“Sorry I’m late. Got tied up at the rectory, it being Sunday and all—it was the blueberry pancake breakfast for the kids and their families,” he said standing on my front porch, a balmy breeze blowing the boxwood hedges behind him. It was Father Dan, Pastor of the College Church, his Roman collar gracing his long sleeve clergy shirt.

“You’re just on time,” I said escorting him to the dining room table around which we sat. “I’ve been looking forward to this.” I had received the Sacrament of the Sick numerous times before knee surgeries and within healing Masses, but I sensed this would be different— the unexpected pitfalls of my terminal illness, especially the long nights, still cried out for God’s mercy.

“I’m so glad to help you out, Liz,” he said smiling as he withdrew from his pocket the sacred olive oil and the pyx containing the consecrated host. Then he found the place in his worn ritual book and placed it in front of him. Only chirping of tree sparrows enlivened the silence we shared as we waited for the Lord’s fullness to manifest.

Antiphonal prayer followed a reading from the Gospel of Matthew: Come to me all you who are heavily burdened and I will give you rest. My yoke is easy, my burden light. Then dipping his fingertip into the olive oil, Father Dan traced the sign of the cross upon my forehead saying in hushed tones, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

Then, other crosses upon the palms of my hands, with the prayer, “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.” It was done—graced crosses resonated within my entire person: body, mind, spirit.

Fragrance like blossoming olive trees seeped into the wiggle-room of my humanness and soothed the rough edges of my terminal illness. I would not lose heart.

 

It was midnight: winds snapped tree limbs resembling Medusa’s snaky hair beneath halogen streetlights. Panic seized me. I sat bolt upright, the comforter, in folds upon my lap. Still drugged from REM sleep, I fished for my slippers, then steadied myself against the bookshelf before taking a step with my cane. I knew what to do.

I made it to the living room, plopped upon the sofa. I began to rock, slowly curling my spine forward, then back. With repetitions, the tempo increased. It felt like I was being held in a vise from which there was no release: My chest was tight; my eyes, irritated; my mind, hostage to whirl-a-gig ideation—my unconscious was in full revolt against my terminal illness. Back and forth, the madness continued, unabated. I knew that it would slowly diminish when played out. It was a matter of time.

Minutes passed, encased in discrete concrete blocks. Then, the repetitions slowed—my spine straightened, my breathing returned to near normal. With the attack winding down, I leaned against the back of the sofa and checked the mantel clock: it was 12:30 in the morning.

This was not the first time I’ve had panic attacks: sourced in my unconscious, they nudge me toward the enormity of my terminal illness. All well and good, my Step-work, the blogging, and other activities of each day, but my attachments to this existence run deep, per Dr. Singh. My new learning continues …

 

 

“It’s only winterbite,” my gardener friend assured me, handing me several mottled leaves from the Christmas Hollys we’d planted last spring in my side yard. Her windblown cheeks, her bulky sweatshirts and jeans, smudged from previous work, bespoke her authority tending gardens. She brightened and leaned over. “See these buds beneath other stressed leaves? Once the earth warms up, they’ll push them off and form new leaves.”

Like the Christmas Hollys, I, too, suffer from winterbite. So weary of wearing long underwear and multiple layers of heavy clothing, so bone-chilled by arctic winds, so leery of inaccurate weather forecasts, so sun-deprived, so tired of in-house walks.

Like everyone, I yearn for the warming sun to quicken my own budding with spring’s pastels: pinks, raspberry, peach, rose …

 

 

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