Monday, July 11, 2011

The Worst Thing, Pt. 1

Not long ago, my friend Annie reminded me that--when we were in high school--I'd said something about having no fear because the worst thing that could happen would only cause me to die, and then I'd go to heaven to live with Jesus.

I laughed and told her I don't feel that way since becoming a mom.

And of course I knew nothing of fear when I was in high school and those I loved most were in perfect health, when--so far as I could tell--the world revolved around me.

Because the worst thing that can happen has nothing to do with me and everything to do with someone I love more than I love myself. 

(Ask me how I know...)

In 2005, my little brother began experiencing chronic abdominal pain.  After two years of performing tests and coming up empty-handed, doctors in Tennessee (where my brother lives) discovered a Tarlov cyst in the region of my brother's spine that houses the stomach nerves.  A specialist at Vanderbilt (Nashville) advised my brother that nothing could be done and that he should "learn to live with the pain," so my brother contacted Dr. Long at Johns Hopkins (Baltimore). Dr. Long had been at Johns Hopkins since 1973 and specialized in complex spinal and chronic-pain problems.  He reviewed my brother's records and, in October 2007, decided to aspirate the cyst and fill it with fibrin glue.  But that particular procedure failed because of the too-quick passage of spinal fluid through the cyst, and the more invasive surgery was scheduled.

After the second surgery, one of my brother's stitches broke, and he developed a spinal-fluid leak. The leak was the size of the doctor's pinkie and caused my brother to have a persistent and severe headache; he could stand for less than five minutes at a time. So he had a third surgery at Johns Hopkins: this time to correct the spinal-fluid leak.

A little less than six months later, my brother underwent more testing because of debilitating leg pain.  In March 2008, the doctors determined that either the old cyst had refilled, or a new one had developed in the same region of my brother's spine.  He returned to Johns Hopkins, in June 2008, for another surgery.

At this point I need to pause and say: I've been wrestling, for the last month or so, with this post in part because it frustrates me to summarize in this way.  I can pour facts...years!...into compact little paragraphs and give you the bare bones of what's happened.  But I'm telling you: the above doesn't scratch the surface of what's happened in my heart, because it explains neither the relationship nor my angst and hurt.   

So indulge me while I depart a little and say: when you remember waiting for your mother to come home with a brand-new someone, your very own someone for whom she's been preparing you by reading, every day, Golden Book The New Baby; when you remember exactly how you felt when you first saw him; when you remember living all your best, childhood memories with him; when you remember the many times you stood up for one another (sometimes with threats, and at least once with a rifle); when you remember begging him (on your knees!) not to sign up with the U.S. Navy, and his doing it anyway, and your crying and missing and praying and worrying for almost four years until he came home, safely, and your thinking: nothing bad can happen, now; when you remember crying into the telephone (on more than one occasion!) only to hear him say: "I'll be there as soon as I can," even though that meant an eight-hour drive; when you remember asking him to be the godfather of your child and any other you might have, in the future; and when you remember bearing a son and thinking, with surprise: this feels, in my heart, almost exactly like having a little brother...something terrible happens to you, inside, when he hurts.  Especially when it's more than just a little hurt, for just a little while.

What I'm trying to say is: when you can look at someone and see all the faces he's ever had (each beloved), including the jaundiced, baby face; the red, Kool-Aid-mustached face of, oh, at least eight years; the pudgy, middle-schooler face; the pimply, teenager face; the stern, "I'm a sailor" face; and the proud, new-dad face...and then you look at him...for years and years...and see rising up from his eyes a deep, dark, writhing pain...

You fall into a pit, and you jerk Jesus Christ into it with you, by the collar.  Or maybe He just jumps down, gracefully and willingly, with you.  It happens too quickly for you to know, for sure. 

All you know (because you're half-blind with fear and rage) is that--when you cast your wild eyes just to the right--He sits beside you, looking calmly in your direction.

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