This is a story of two miracles.
Anger having cooled, outrage quiet, I woke to a fresh-faced January morning last year with a curious sense of peace. It might have been acceptance wed to sorrow after my father’s death. For a miracle moment, I understood that I had cursed enough, cried enough, railed at the gods enough. I felt a tug of curiosity about what might come next. There is no script for grief.
Later that day, I saw my friend Robert, a fellow Sagittarian, for acupuncture. We go back over 20 years and always had an easy camaraderie. He was married to Val, an outspoken Leo, for nearly 50 years; they met in Vietnam as 19-year-old marines. I’d always been closer to Robert than Val, and not just because I saw him more frequently. As long as I’d known her, she made me nervous: the permanent line between her brows, hands often clenched, the defensive swagger of a sailor. We’d socialized a few times but never gotten close. In reflection, she was my doppleganger, although I wore makeup and heels and she did not.
Robert had just been declared clean after a fierce bout of cancer with complications. “What are you going to do now?” I’d asked last November. “Well, I’ll probably semi-retire in about 4 years when I’m 70. I’ll spend more time at our place with Val.” A healthy few acres of land in Shasta County, it suited their respective rough-hued individualism.
It was just six days after my dad died that I called Robert to make an appointment. I asked him how he was, as friends do.
His reply came after a long pause. “Well, Val’s in the hospital. She just had a brain tumor removed.”
I stuttered to shocked silence, which Robert filled with calm explanation: “It started as uterine cancer and metastasized to the brain.”
“Is she terminal?” I blurted.
With a bitter bark of a laugh, he answered: “We’re all terminal.”
Val was sleeping in the other room when I arrived at his office. An hour later, off the table and dressed, I asked if I could see her.
“I think she’d probably like that,” said Robert.
The door to the other room opened and Val, a bit coltish on her feet, rose from a futon and into the main office. “Want to see my scar?” she asked with an impish grin. Without waiting for my answer, she turned to show me the ragged tattoo arcing across the right side of her skull, evidence that she had won this first round.
“Pretty impressive,” I commented gently. With balletic grace, she sat. “That’s as far as I can get.” “That’s pretty impressive, too,” I said.
For about ten minutes I sat with her. I felt as if I were in the presence of all that was holy and whole. Val, no longer defiant. Val, weaponry cast off, vulnerable. She was beautiful and I told her so. She nodded, eyes shining, not because it’s polite to take a compliment, but because it was true.
“I have people praying for me everywhere,” she said, delighted. “Doing ritual. People I haven’t even met.” She closed her eyes, tuning into a voice only she could hear. “I can feel the love.”
The words that I’d said to my dying dad I now said again to her: “Yes, it’s always about love. Love is all there is.” I basked in her aliveness, her wholeness, the holiness of the moment.
The ultimate truth and power of that simple sentence, which never grows stale, hung between us. Then she laughed. “Yes,” she said, glowing, “that’s all there is.”
What I saw in Val was what I’d also seen in my father’s dying eyes: the Universe issuing a playful invitation to live now, love now, be now. For whatever time she, or you, or I, have left, this message is the most powerful I have ever been privileged to receive.
Two miracles in two weeks. Life is good, and so is death.