“No man hath affliction enough that is not matured, and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction…Tribulation is Treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, Heaven, by it”
John Donne, Devotions 17
My name is pain, and I came here to fix you. I was there at your start to remind your mother the price of life. I am here now as an old friend, the last to whom you will give your goodbyes.
There was a time when the green still showed behind your ears that you saw me as the evil that is in this world. The first heartbreak is always the worst. Like believing that shooting star was actually a rocket coming to take you away, your hopeful love was dashed quite as quickly as you imagined it up. I was there. I watched you wallowing in the sorrow, but even for the pigs wallowing gets old. So you moved on, more wary to whom you allow in. That lesson was mine to teach, and you received it well.
The cancer spread in your father. I tended to him throughout its development, taking care to remind him to have his estate in order and to give his depleting supply of words to those who needed them the most. When he said goodbye to both of us, we were all one another had for quite some time. You let go of your friends, your family scarcely saw you, your faith was long gone. Only I was given the time of day, day after day. In this, our close time together, you came to terms with death, I taught you empathy, and standing on my shoulders you saw the path of your life in the field of oncology. At this point, we were yet to become friends, but you saw my place in the world and learned I was more than just a broken heart.
When she came into your life, you recognized her immediately. I had spent considerable amounts of time with her as well. The ghost of my weight could be seen in her eyes and the tender way she cared for your patients. I was watching cartoons with her when her father left all those years ago. She saw my reflection in the tears her mother cried waiting for him to come back. Under these circumstances, I prompted her to grow quickly, to take care of her mother, to guard her heart. My mark on her life is the reason you felt you had seen her before. She sent me to you in the form of rejection a number of times, but with the patient heart I carved for you in medical school, you persisted. The night you told her of your walk with me after your father died was the first night she trusted you to know how to handle a heart. It was also the first night you recognized the change that I had wrought in you.
You were married after a short engagement. I don’t blame you, but we lost touch for some years as you took the company of my better-looking sibling, joy. Don’t feel bad though, I kept up on your life through the eyes of those around you who kept our friendship secret.
I was so excited when my cousin, fear, invited me to watch your first child be born. Your mind was riddled with her when the doctors said there may be complications with the delivery. Everything worked out fine, however, and I didn’t receive so much as a letter from you for years. You felt my shadow in your day-to-day life as you stubbed your toe from time to time, but, having walked with me deeply, you knew my touch was more than just the firing of nerve endings.
I settled in your bones as the father of us all, time, turned his millennial clock. When your second oldest son was deployed, fear and I once again tended to your alarm clock in the morning. You felt our weight leave when he returned home safely, but our short reunion gave you the necessary push to spend more time with those you love and less time in the hospital. It is what eventually lead to the decision to retire in order to see your eldest grandson’s first basketball game. It even lead you to your knees in prayer that day, to win back the faith your father’s death took from you so long ago.
I have shaped your entire life. I made your muscles hard and your heart strong enough to bear the burdens of others. I gave you the eyes to see your one love. I gave you the wisdom to raise children in a world full of people doing everything they can to avoid me. My music became the whistle in your work and the call to do good for others. Here, at the end of your life, we rest together fully, surrounded by those you love. These people I gave you. You have come to know me in your life, not as the block of stumbling in your path but as the stepping stone to a better future. Fear and I cultivated the faith that prepared you for this, your final moment in the hospital. I ride out on your dying breath with a tear in my eye. Goodbye my friend, we had a beautiful walk together, but I have work to do down the hall. Someone just became the mother of a beautiful baby boy.