“Praying” by Mary Oliver
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
During Ky’s more challenging spell last week, he looked over at me and asked “Why did God do this to me?”. It’s a question I’ve asked too. My answers ranged the spectrum in my own head, but holding myself accountable for an answer to him – that was a whole different ballpark. In the end, I told him that I can’t believe that God, or whatever we believe in, did that to him. “Bad things happen,” I told him, “but that wasn’t God…or whoever. That was just bad things happening. You getting Leukemia is a bad thing. But it isn’t a punishment or something that God did to you. God, or faith, or grace – that’s in the small things we’re trying to notice. The kindness of strangers, the love of the people around us, the actions of the incredible nurses, the wisdom of your doctors, the kindness of a potential donor. That’s God. Remission? That’s God hearing all the people who believe in you and want you here, making the world a better place…being the beautiful kid that you are.”
As Sunday night rambled into Monday morning, Ky’s last bag of chemo for this round was hung. It’s called Mitoxantrone, also known as ‘blue thunder’. The timing of it being given in the middle of the night was deliberate as it would lessen the extent of Ky’s nausea. I slept through the first two nights of ‘blue thunder’, but for some reason, there was no sleeping through the third. Emily, Ky’s nurse that night, was the same nurse who hung his last bag of chemo during the first round. She made us a fun sign that we kept on his board during the remainder of our stay after that round was done. Lately it seems as though nothing is a coincidence.
Emily was in Ky’s room getting vitals around 9 that night and Ky struck out for the bathroom. He was going to be sick. Again. As he vomited, Emily and I talked. “Poor guy,” she said. I told her about his earlier inquiry about God, offered her my explanations, hoping that given her career choice and dealing with so much more of this than I ever will, she might have more to offer. She did. Her explanation was eloquent and beautiful and that of a woman who has such reverence for the Universe, good and bad. It comforted me in such a way that I was sad Ky missed it.
At 12:30, Emily and another nurse quietly verified is medical record number, his date of birth, the name of the medicine and the infusion rate by the glow of a small pen light. I popped my head up as she hung the mighty liquid on the pole, “That’s it?” “This is it,” she said. Just like that. Round two, in the books. After they left, I got up to look at my boy. Sure enough, blue thunder was blue, an ominous shade of dark, dark blue. It looked just exactly like poison dripping from the bag, down a tube, into the central line in his chest. I couldn’t stand to look at it, but I also couldn’t look away. I reminded myself over and over that this process is how we restore his health; this is how we put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Then I sat by his bed and sang the song I used to sing to him as he fell asleep in my arms as a baby, over and over until it stopped dripping.
When I woke Monday morning, I went to take a shower while Ky slept. Next to his bathroom on his ‘daily plan’ board was a note – another note of congratulations from Emily and next to that, a poem that had been printed and mounted on a bright yellow piece of paper. It was a poem called “Praying” by Mary Oliver. If I’ve read it ten times, I’ve read it one hundred, but it’s never meant more.
There are a million and one reasons why I have such heavy doubt around belief in something greater right now, but here on our board was a voice, a sign, a something, loud and true. Mary Oliver has been my favorite poet for years. I’ve made it my personal mission to teach my students about her, to teach them to notice the way she does. I drove four hours, one way…on a school night…to listen to her read for 90 minutes. Then, as she held a book that I brought to have autographed, I cried. Her books are my bibles.
I was covered in goosebumps. Emily left us notes…but it felt like a whole lot more. Of all the poems and poets and things that could have been left, here it was. Anyone who knows me can imagine just how much that tiny poem meant in this time of need.
When Ky woke and headed for the bathroom, he saw Emily’s notes too. He knows how much I love Mary Oliver, so that little yellow piece of paper gave him a huge smile. As he crossed the threshold into the bathroom, he offered “You know what? Sometimes good things come from bad things, Mama.”
I feel like my words fall so short of the gratitude I felt in that moment, that I continue to feel for that moment.