Dancing in the rain

As I watched them walk out the door ahead of me, waiting for the perfect shaft of light to illuminate girlhood and infancy lilting through the sunset and out of the cavernous old barn, a million old emotions flooded back. That moment...watching someone I love dearly walk off with my son, facing forward toward the beauty and possibility that is life outside the cavern...I remember the moments I spent watching my kids dance in a lamp lit living room in November. Isolated, shivering, standing in the dark, surrounded by the eerie loneliness of the sounds of city nightlife. Feeling my life slip like so many grains of sand through an open palm. The glass shut me out, just like the length of that barn floor did. Being an outsider is never pleasant, especially when your heart is heavy with worry.

That is cancer. I know it, as well as I know the sounds of blood pressure echoing through the earpieces on my stethoscope, or the thud and whoosh of blood flowing through the chambers of a heart, or the tidal roar of air sucking into empty lungs to swell and then overflow the iron cage of ribs surrounding this wave of life that is drawn in without thought. I know cancer is a creeping, murky shadow of reality that seeps into joys and pleasures, and devours hope and faith almost without sign. I knew someday a radiology tech would put his instrument on my neck and pause for just a few minutes too long. It happened once before, I knew it would happen again.

But I still wasn't ready. I wasn't ready when I sensed the tension in the room. I knew before I looked up at the screen that I would see a round black hole where hope and resolution should have been found. Instead, in the crackle and pop of electronic noise, I heard the slow sobbing of a requiem for a dream. As I wordlessly walked out to the waiting room, fears swelled up where tears should have. Cancer: of the thyroid this time, or the parotid gland? What did it mean when a radiologist came in, suit coat flapping as he hurried to the equipment, and scanned my neck himself? What does "wait and see" really mean to a cancer patient? I suspended disbelief. I suspended belief. I hung, suspended, for two days. Suspended in reality, suspended in nightmare, suspended in prayer, suspended in the solace that was sleep.

The next appointment. A cardiologist. He informs me my heart failure is worsening, that my pulse is continuing to slow. That a pacemaker is indicated. Sends me to see a "heart failure" doctor. More fear, more tears locked in dry eyes, more words closed in a stinging throat. More suspension. I waited for Wednesday...five days. Eternity? Waited for suspension to drop me with a thud back into the dirt floor of cancer's reality.

The tide began to turn on Saturday. I found an organ. I've been praying for an organ for a year and a half. A blues organ. Preferably a Hammond B-3. To play at church with the band. Just something fun - it's not like I was praying to be cured of cancer. I have a hard time whispering those words in tense, desolate quiet with God: but an organ is something I can beseech of Him. So I did. And I found it. Free, on the curbside. Passed it the first time...our car was too small, I was sure it didn't work anyway. Excuses, of course. Excuses that might have undermined a Savior's gift for me. But instead, another nudge: my aunt asked if we wanted to go take a look at "that free organ down the street". I agreed, hesitantly. Out of boredom, to tell the truth. The organ worked: it's a Hammond A-100, a rare and beautiful stepbrother to the mighty B-3, with the same sound, the same technology. A gift worth thousands of dollars, just sitting by the curb on a Saturday afternoon in rural Minnesota. Okay God, I thought, that was pretty cool!

I went home. Checked my e-mail on Sunday. In my daily digest from Freecycle: "free organ". Okay God, I thought, that would be pretty amazing! I sent a message to the giver. The organ doesn't work, he said. Aaron said, Let's give it a chance anyway. See what God can do. Drove an hour to pick it up. Plugged it in the back of the truck. Figured we may as well see if it works before we lug this baby inside! It's a Hammond M102, the "Baby B". The same technology, only slightly smaller cabinet and half as many bass pedals. I heard the swell and cry of the pipes from inside: all Aaron had to do was read the manual. The second organ works perfectly, too. Pray for a year and a half, and sometime a miracle comes out of nowhere: a piano for home, a piano for church. No sweat for a big Jesus, apparently!

Preparing for my appointment yesterday, that deep soul work that nothing can hasten, I sat at the keys and got used to playing with my feet. Pure joy. I felt God shouting this time (usually He whispers - or am I just deaf??): See, child, I know every detail of your heart. I know why it beats slow sometimes and fast others. I know why you faint. I know every hair on your head. I know your going out and coming in, your lying down and standing up. I know the hour and day of your death, and I am waiting here to welcome you home. Cancer, schmancer. This is God speaking, the God who throws two free organs at you in two days! This is the God that created sun, stars, heavens and earth. Babies, blessings, husbands, farmhouses, gourmet food, summer songs of crickets and frogs, winter refrain of birds and snowflakes. How could you doubt me? Trust me, because I am always here. Listening. Loving. Lavishing.

So in I walked to two appointments today. The first was very hard: no answers are clear, and when that happens...well, doctors start to think maybe the reason for your problems isn't physical. It isn't, I want to shout! It is spiritual. God allowed me to feel this, to be created this way. He hedges me in, and He goes before me. Who are you to say it is impossible for me to faint as much as I do? Who are you to question what is so abundantly clear in your data? Question he does anyway, this doctor. Infuses the whole care team with questions without answers. Next appointment: the lump in my neck is okay, for now. Stable, hasn't grown since last September. The question remains, why is it there? Why didn't the iodine kill it? It is a nodule, and it looks like cancer, but it doesn't suck up iodine and it doesn't show on whole body scans. So there are lots of questions about how best to monitor it, or if it should be biopsied or removed. I'll learn more on Friday when I visit my oncologist here in Eau Claire.

The neurologist is close to concluding, to handing me a diagnosis. In her opinion, I may have orthostatic intolerance, a condition on the dysautonomic spectrum of illness. Hard to treat. But at least a diagnosis. I might be best off cloistered in my farmhouse, taking some herbs now and then, continuing with my country doctors here in Eau Claire. Tonight I go to sleep, monitors humming away for the next 24 hours. Still beseeching God, this time for an answer instead of a Hammond organ (or two!).

And remembering that sweet, sweet sound of bluesy perfection joining the crickets and frogs in an Indian summer lament/praise for a God who is holy, tender, and extravagant and a world that is harsh and si bon mais si lassant.