Eight years ago, in November 2010, I wrote a post I called Stargazing. It was about asking life’s big questions and how we stop doing so as we age. Within the post I mentioned someone who during my high school years meant a lot to me:
I only took one person to this sacred spot of mine. Her name was…well, I’ll keep that to myself. She may read this and I’d hate to embarrass her. She was a year ahead of me in high school. We were in band together. She was quiet and unassuming, and I thought she was very pretty. Somehow we connected in all the busyness of our teenage years for too short a time and made a try at dating. I was horrible at it and my first love, baseball, ensured the relationship’s death come springtime. But that winter was warmed by the quiet, pretty farmgirl who played clarinet. One night, a night much like tonight, we had gone out for a bit and spent some talking on my front porch. We went for a walk and found ourselves in my backyard where I led her to the place I did all my thinking. I sat down and she sat on my lap for warmth. We talked about the same questions: How will it all turn out? Where will we go in our lives? What will we be doing? We laughed and we talked about all the possibilities before us.
She still means a lot to me. I’m a man blessed to know many people, but I have a very small circle of close friends. I would fight for them in a heartbeat even if we haven’t seen each other in years. I’ll fight physically, if necessary, and always through prayer.
In November of last year, just two months ago, my friend’s husband of twenty-eight years, a fine man, husband and father of her two children, died very suddenly and without warning. No sooner had she finished the grim, sad task of burying him than she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. So aggressive that they started chemo within a week. An elementary school teacher with two children in college, her most pressing concern was for her students and her kids. I know this because we had reconnected by random chance by running into each other in a big box store parking lot of all places, around twelve or so years ago, and have stayed in touch via Facebook or text messages.
Before I’d gone on my retreat last month I sent out a text to several people asking them if there were any intentions I could pray for on their behalf. She responded, asking in part:
“For cancer to be gone for the rest of my life. For (my) children to have peace and be cancer free their whole life, to hear God…”
I responded by offering those prayers at my retreat and after. Understandably her spirits were very low after absorbing all of these blows while heading into the holiday season. I also responded by sending her bad clarinet memes. When we were in high school she played clarinet and I played trombone. Trombonists are notorious trouble makers and forwarders of bad band memes, even those with typos. I like to think I helped her laugh a little.
I text her every week, especially the Sundays prior to her two-week chemo treatment. On December 23rd she texted me first:
“Hey! You should see my bald head … 30 years off my age and with a gazillion more muscles and I could be G.I. Jane.”
Sure enough a few minutes later I saw a family photo taken in front of their Christmas tree. Bald as the proverbial cue ball.
It should be mentioned that she is around 5’5”…maybe 5’6” before the hair loss. It should also be pointed out that clarinet players are not as funny as trombone players, but we laugh at their jokes anyway. I figure you gotta have a sense of humor to play a reed instrument. Trombonists have few faults outside of our propensity for bad memes and being late. It’s why we chose to play an instrument with that slide. It’s a cool, non-chalant way of being a half-beat early or late but eventually getting to the right note. “Bad timing, with style,” is what I’d imagine Buzz Lightyear saying if he played the trombone.
Admit it, you just heard him say it in your head.
Yesterday was the passage of another two weeks and it was time to check in. She responded:
“Feeling good for the last four days. Chemo tomorrow. Would have been my 29th anniversary today.”
Before she dozed off (I was up late watching a special about the Red Sox run to the World Series title on MLB Network) she seemed to pick up the conversation we’d begun all those years ago during the time I write about in that post when she texted:
“What is your life’s ambition?”
Jeez…clarinet players are unpredictable and much too serious. Thinking about it for a bit, and recalling a similar conversation we’d had together under a canopy of stars thirty-four years ago, I texted back:
“That’s the million dollar question that I have never been able to answer.”
But as I type this out now a thought occurred to me. Maybe it’s to be there for friends in need. That’s not a bad ambition, is it?
During my lunch hour today I was running errands and buying a few things for my oldest son’s birthday tomorrow when she texted me after her chemo was finished.
“Found out at appt today I have cancer in the right side also.”
Being a master wordsmith who is often too verbose in my texts, I considered my a reply for five minutes before mustering
“Better to find out now then later,” she replied.
I think I’ve begun to realize my life’s ambition after all … just a week after turning fifty-one.
Trombonists aren’t known for their timing. Better late than never. A clarinet player taught me that.
Please pray for my friend Clarice.
I quoted this song in my original piece eight years ago but failed to embed it for some silly reason. I’m correcting that grievous error here.
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