A Provocation: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

No text this week.  No text, and no regular Provocation.

This is the week that my play, Real as Air, opens on the main stage at Augustana University.  This play grows out of things my wife, my sister, and I wrote to each other during the two years my sister lived with ALS.

Yes, we wrote about the disease that was stealing my sister’s muscles, one by one.  And yes, we wrote about death.

But what we discovered that seemed important was that the pressure of an invariably fatal disease intensified our experience of joy and beauty.  When fresh tree-ripened peaches came into season, the thrill of sharp delight shot through us with an intensity that surprised us.  We knew that this might be the last time we tasted peaches together.

We discovered that our intensified awareness of the shortness of life clarified some things.  We learned that dumb jokes are just as dumb, and that goofy laughter is always in season.  We learned that you should never waste an opportunity to tell someone you love them.  We learned never to squander an occasion to thank someone.

On the day that my sister died, we were still in the midst of life-long conversations, still savoring the last fragments of the exploratory arguments that we had begun years before.  By this time, my sister could scarcely speak, and she was trying to write notes to me, since writing was still barely possible.  In the middle of our last conversation, our last attempts to plan her funeral together, the hospice nurse arrived.  My sister’s last words were spoken to the hospice nurse who brought her the morphine that allowed her to relax as her gasping became choking.  Each word required it’s own breath, sometimes two, and sometimes she had to wait for the choking spasms to subside before she could go on.  She fixed the nurse in her gaze and said, slowly and with careful effort, “Thank you for coming.”

That was what we learned from those two years of coping with ALS.

That was a lot to learn.

(For any of you who might be close enough to Sioux Falls to come see the show, you can get tickets online at http://www.augie.edu/arts   Just go to that URL and scroll down to the Box Office link.  It should make sense from there.  Or, if you wanted to become a virtual member of our team in the Walk to Defeat ALS, go to http://www.tinyurl.com/kathyscircle   From there, you can follow the links to join our team, which is called “Kathy’s Circle.”)


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