“Living in the Amazon gave me a new perspective on how much we take for granted” our daughter proclaimed after she returned from a missions trip to Brazil. “We carried water over a mile from the river to the village every day. You learn not to look at it and just drink it.”
Turning on a faucet and pouring water beyond our needs is easy and expected. When hot water ran cold in the shower, I became inflammatorily incensed. The first time we ran the well on our farm dry, we were left without water for two days until they repaired the mud filled pump. My expectations briefly changed. I still expect clean hot and cold water and groan little, okay maybe a lot, when it is not to my liking.
Our modern push-button-get-what-we-want-when-we-want-it-life has made what was one precious mundane. We take so much for granted. Grace O’Malley captured the enormity of the stuff we expect to pour from our faucets in her recent post for The Cultural Purveyor But there is something big, grand, and immeasurably infinite hidden in front of our nose, largely forgotten and ignored – the miracle of life.
It took near death experiences from health calamities to rekindle the magic of the mystical miracle of life. The child endlessly asks, Why?” yet most adults stop asking. We expect life to pour from the faucet and to “just live.” Take a moment here to reflect on the phrase “just live,” become the child and ask why is there life, what is the purpose, and where does it come from.
Should it take a near death experience to reawaken the big-eyed enamored child hidden inside to the priceless invaluable gift of life?
May 1995, our two daughters had their first communion followed by a gala at my mother and father-in-law’s home. My wife Sally’s nine brothers and sisters, their spouses and children, a smattering of aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends dwarfed my more modestly sized side of the family. We ate, loved and laughed. After the barbecued burgers, chicken, and corn on the cob, everyone noted that I did not look well.
“I ate too much,” smiling as I pondered my chronic gastric problems and secretly justified my overindulgence in celebration of my daughters’ milestone. That night, I woke up ill, customarily brushed it off and went back to ssleep. I awoke not feeling ill enough to stay home. I was accustomed to my pain almost as though it were normal. I walked across the field with Genny, our Harlequin Great Dane, passed the cows to my office on the corner of the darm. Less than an hour later, I was in too much pain to walk back to our home. I called Sally to pick me up with the car and hobbled into the house.
After lying on the couch for a few hours, I broke down and went to the emergency room. After blood work and exams, Dr. Morris proclaimed, “You must have surgery today. Have it here or somewhere else but get it done today.” Dr. Morris was one of top surgeons in our community and from a prominent multi-generational medial family.
“What’s wrong with me and what are you going to do?” Reasonable questions I for my disconcerting situation.
“You have peritonitis. I think your intestine ruptured. It may be a ruptured appendix, but we I do not think so. We’ll remove your appendix either way and you will likely have a colostomy.” Dr. Morris was unemotionally, terse and matter of fact.
Thoughts raced through my head. Am I going to die? If I live, how will a colostomy affect my life? How do you make love with this appendage? Will I ever take my shirt off again?
As my mind slowed, I realized they placed me in a pediatric examining room. The walls covered with cartoonish murals and the room filled with bright colored plastic furniture. Serendipitous? No. I don’t believe in coincidences. This was intentional. I smiled at the peaceful reminder of my childhood innocence too often lost in the responsivities of adulthood.
The décor conjured thoughts of my beautiful wife and three children, and the possibility of leaving them behind. Our son had already lost one father and I could not imagine him living through the loss of another. The idea of my daughters growing up fatherless and my wife raising our family alone was unbearable. Leaving this world before my mother felt unnatural. I want to be here to walk my daughters down the aisle. I want to hold my grandchildren. I want to grow old with my bride.
Staying alive became more important than the travails of living with a plastic removable toilet glued to my stomach. God and I had a mostly one-way chat. “I cannot imagine that You want my children growing up without a father and Sally raising our children alone. Whatever I have to endure is worth enduring to be here for them.” I prayed. I negotiated. And then a promise from Him that I would be okay replaced my tension with peace.
Dr. Morris sat alone in preparation as they placed me on the operating table. He looked like a pitcher in the dugout during the seventh game of the World Series. Clearing his mind and focusing on his task; saving a life, my life. I suppose he visualized each step of the process, preparing contngencies for problems and complications, and the outcome of a healed patient. I thanked and blessed him before they put me to sleep.
A few hours later, I awoke on the gurney to the recovery room. Dr. Morris accompanied walked alongside with the attendents. I asked, “What did you do?”
“You had a colostomy,” Dr. Morris delivered as though I had ordered one from his catalog.
In that moment of awakening, an apropos sick joke emerged from my nearly limitless library of off-color, non-PC humor. Warning, my twisted sense of humor was unbounded and unbridled.
“What color is the bag?” I asked.
“Green,” he volleyed back with typical clinical distance.
“I have nothing to wear with green,” I quipped.
We all laughed.
The next week was difficult. Two days in ICU with tubes, hoses, wires, monitors and lots of pain. The morning after surgery, my son stopped by on the way to school. He turned white as a ghost and looked worse than I did. Seeing him was answered prayer. I was alive! He was pitching that night for his high school. “I’m fine Bob. Pitch a winner tonight.”
The second Saturday as a hospital guest, we held the draft for our baseball league in the hospital’s visitor’s room. Two of the managers overcame their “discomfort” with my first mandate as the new president of the league, which I am confident was a ploy to run the draft without me. The nursing staff set up the room for us. They served us juice with the little straws from a hospital cart. The managers looked like baseball fanatics. I wore one of those humbling hospital gowns and sat alone next to my IV stand. We agreed on a new draft process that met the important goals without too much debate. The teams were drafted and everyone left mostly happy.
I went home on Sunday. Monday, the season opened and I was on the baseball field celebrating life.
Sally took care of me. She dressed my wounds. They were ugly. A few months later, after the season, they reversed my colostomy. The unglamorous scars remained. Sally says they remind her that she got to keep me. Each time I take off my shirt, they remind me that life is magical, mystical and precious.
Life cannot be quantified, qualified, or dissected. We may not agree on the who, what, when, where, why, and how of life, but we can agree that we cannot produce, package, buy or sell life.
Many friends sent me Happy Birthday wishes today, which leads me to a little digression. One of our daughters’ friends, now almost 30, posted this on Facebook.
“Happy Birthday Mr. Hart! I remember as a little girl being at your home all the time. If you ever need me to come around and paint a fence ever again, let me know. Those were good memories for me and my childhood 🙂 Have a great day”
She was one of the dozen or so kids who white washed a few hundred yards of board fence along the edge of our farm in the style of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. There was more paint on them and the road than on the fence, which was my plan. They laughed and giggled. And I wished I were one of them. It was one of many magnificent memories stitched in my soul for all eternity.
Birthdays are a reminder of the gift of life as is every day and every moment. I’m thankful for life. I’m grateful God created me and for Him gifting me a life filled with ccountless, irreplaceable moments.
Tonight, when the clock strikes 12, my birthday will be over. Tomorrow, should I awake, I will do just as I do every day; thank Him for yet one more day of life.