Sunday, March 08, 2009

I Been Down to the Crossroads...

After church on Sunday, I learned that a member was in Markey Cancer Center. She'd been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer almost nine months ago, so to me, this was not a surprise. Still, I sensed this might be the final visit to the hospital. An extraordinarily proud and private woman, she and her husband are two of the handful of African American members in our Central Kentucky UU Church. I never asked her what led her to our church years back. They used to bring their grandaughters; now their grandchildren are doctors, lawyers, football players, and parents themselves. Charlesmarie and her husband James were both born and grew up in Lexington, Kentucky. Both have been leaders and respected figures in the Black community. She worked for State Government for years, they traveled extensively, and they own a beautiful sprawling home near the church, in a neighborhood that, even today, would be considered "white." But, in the UU Church, they have been a quiet, supportive, and unassuming presence. They have been ushers for years. James came in early to work on our newsletter crew. Charlesmarie served on the Board. But when our church members recall her this week, it will be for her always stunning good looks and tasteful wardrobe, and her dignified presence.

Watching her fade and finally depart throughout the week, I came to know her family. She never would discuss with me the possibility that she'd die, even when we both knew that pancreatic cancer, which had killed her brother and her father, was the diagnosis. She became a bit more outspoken about her liberal, Unitarian Christian leanings, and so we prayed together, but she'd only pray for healing. It was not until this week that she let me be close to her, and when she gave me the gift, allowing me to stroke her brow and kiss her forehead, when she laid down what must have been that huge burden of maintaining a wall of secrecy and denial around her cancer, it was like a beautifully wrapped box that I will be examining for some time to come. Her husband told me last night, a few hours after she died, with a dozen or more children, grandchildren and one great-grandson gathered around, that I was one of only two or three folk outside the family whom she'd permit to visit these difficult months.

During this week, our RE Director was in the same University of Kentucky Hospital, about a quarter of a mile away, in the Children's Wing, her very sick twelve year old son having been diagnosed with Crohn's Disease. As she and her husband and Max endured the tests and came to terms with the options, I walked the long corridors between their family and Charlesmarie. Midweek, I learned that in between the cancer center and the Children's Hospital, another church member had entered the Maternity Ward and given birth early to her third son, Owen. Within an hour, I saw color return to the cheeks of a pale twelve year old, kissed the head of a dying seventy year old, and touched the brow of a newborn baby. At times like this, I understand our religion more deeply than any theology could ever permit me. I know I stand at the crossroads of life, death, and everything in-between. All of the myriad things I think I have to accomplish fall away. There is nothing to do but what the man in Robert Johnson's song did: get down on my knees.