On Wednesday I sit in the Hospice in Vermont. “Wait and watch,” I read from Mark’s Gospel for the First Sunday in Advent.” I’m doing that,” I think to myself. Within are friends who are near death. I wait and watch.
On Thursday: I am with our granddaughter. She is seven months and full of wonder. Her excitement expressed with squeals of joy. “Wait and Watch” I read. I watch and wait for her to show me the new unveiling that has come to her. She chatters on, tries sounds. She speaks a magical language as she brings form and connection to the sounds that may, no will, I trust, become words. I throw a few Spanish. Italian, Russian, German, Czech words into the mix. She entices my sense of mischief and adventure. I watch and wait for the new creation who has come to grace our lives, a new and glorious re- Incarnation as one of the beat poets reminded me years ago . In fact as with Ferlinghetti, “I am waiting for a rebirth of wonder.” She is our teacher on the way to a second and even better childhood. We can appreciate it now, maybe we can wait and watch for the signs when she may become so full of knowledge that she will need a reminder to keep wonder, to live in awe of the creation as much as possible, to bless each day and each moment for the wisdom it brings.
On Wednesday I watch and wait as my friends die: My friends are both healers: One is a peacemaker and has worked throughout the world to bring her skills into some of the worlds most stubborn conflicts. She is dearly loved by many. A newcomer to her circle, she still in the weeks or months left, invites me in. I inwardly bow before her. She has met and talked with the Dalai Lama. Born a Jew she is now a Buddhist, and yet she has room for this Christian who prays for her in the words and through the image of Jesus. I feel deeply honored and humbled to be in such a presence. She waits eager and weary for the divine. She is held already in the arms of God, friends come and pray in the words of Buddhism, Judaism and my silent Christian prayers, a psalm: “Where can I go from the hand of God?”
My other friend, a healer who has devoted his life to the study and nurture of remedies based in plants, lives with both gratitude and resentment that his life is being cut too short. He struggles with any faith that requires an almost total loss of control. And yet he has given so much to the world, he is surrounded by the accumulation of thousands of souls and bodies he has freed from suffering. Richard Rohr’s simple definition of suffering is not being in control. Somehow his wait and watch works its way through the cancer that takes claim of his body, he will suffer much and my prayer is that he will fall into the arms of the holy. I suspect his Holy One is the good earth he has tended with such brilliant care these many years. We will all fall into the sweet arms of the ground.
Where can I go from the love of God? The question to me is nowhere and everywhere. It depends on my availability. I sit and read the lessons for this Sunday to come. I am at once far away and near. My own brain still pulls at me, makes argument, wrestles with suffering and with my paltry ball-point pen as it tries to make sense of my friend’s sense of betrayal and loss of his functions. I have no answer. Together we walk the wait and watch without simple answers, all we have are the prayers I say under my breath so as not to annoy him with anything that sounds too religious or sentimental. I reach out and take his hand. “ Thank you dear man for giving your life to the art of healing.” It is enough, I think, to give yourself totally to what you love. Your life is a blessing to the earth.
On Thursday: The child leads me to marvel: sight and sound become for her and through her to me a new creation. She invites me to see again with new eyes, a new heart. She sees without words or constructs or ideas for the first time. I catch myself when I am too quick to name everything she touches and sees and tastes and hears and feels as if words can ever replace the first touch of a leaf, the first taste of milk from her mother, the first sight of a creature in flight, the texture of my beard, the wind in her ears, the sun in her eyes, the blessings of sleep and rest.
And so we sing to her, her grandmother and I, lullabies, the one I once sang to children in Philadelphia who were born with AIDS. “If I could give you three things I would give you these: songs and laugher and a wooden home on the shining seas. When you see old Isle La Haut arising in the dawn, you will play in yellow fields in the morning sun…”**Gordon Bok
And there is a sweet sadness to the wait and watch. I delight in the child who awakens me to wonder, and brings me to imagine what the next step will be for my friends and me as we make the journey from this life to the next. For now it is best to be here and alive and be a witness to the presence of wonder as she arrives each new day, fresh, awake and new born.
From A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti