Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Matter of Life and Death

I'll never forget the night of April 8, 1999. At that time I was about 7 months pregnant with David and we were living in a tiny little rental house in Weston, Iowa. That has nothing to do with my story - I'm just reminiscing. No, that night I received two phone calls within the space of maybe an hour or two and the irony of it has always stayed with me. The first call was from my friend, Don. He called to proudly report the birth of his first daughter. I was so happy for him! The next call was completely different. In fact, it was the opposite of the news I had just heard. I got a phone call that let me know that a lady in our church - single, in her 40s - had died from cancer. I remember just thinking about the total spectrum of life that I had experienced that night in phone calls - life and death in a single night.

We kind of experienced that again this fall. It wasn't on the same night, but within a week we received news of both the death of a friend and the birth of a family member. Actually, the birth side of things has been a bit more weighted this fall. I had two really good friends deliver babies in October, we had a great niece born that month, my niece was born Nov. 2, and we have a great- nephew that was born just yesterday. So, I've been buying a lot of baby cards lately!

The lady that died was from our former church in SW Iowa. She was a long-time family friend of Paul's family. Her name was Judy and she was just special all around. She taught in the Christian school that our former church used to have. Paul tells me that the only reason he is able to help Will with his algebra today is because of Judy teaching it to him, so long ago. He still recites all his prepositions and conjunctions, too, in some little rhyme she taught the kids in English class. That actually gets annoying. Judy was a quiet person, but with a ready laugh. When I think of Judy, the word, "encourager" comes to mind. She was that to me. She always noticed when I did little things like cut my hair or wore a new dress. She always, always had something pleasant to say about any service endeavors I put forth in our little church. Judy delighted in my children, which was enough to win my heart! She loved cuddling my babies. When Ben was born I remember her calling me (after a full day of teaching) one night and suggesting that we go up to the NICU and visit Ben together. I still have a picture of her, wearing the required yellow NICU gown, holding Ben close to her, despite all his wires and tubes. Judy cared. I have a vivid memory of inviting Judy and Richard (her husband) over to our little house to help us polish off a crop of sweetcorn. That's all we had for supper that night - ear after ear of buttered sweet corn! I remember, too, that Judy and her husband made the 4 hour trek across the state to attend our wedding - on a bitterly cold and snowy February day! I have a table topper that Judy quilted and gave to me one Christmas in a gift exchange in our ladies' group at church. I'll cherish it forever. Plus, it really matches my living room well!

Sixteen years ago Judy battled cancer - and won. This fall she was told that it had invaded her body once more. She was gearing up for the fight of her life when God very unexpectedly took her home. Paul and I were both so shocked and so saddened when we got the news. We attended her funeral on the last Wednesday in October and it was sad, but yet sweet at the same time. Everyone was relieved that Judy would not have to endure cancer treatments again, but so sad that she would not be living among us any longer.

And then on the other end of the spectrum of life, it was just 5 days later that my brother called to announce the birth of his little daughter, Phoebe - my first niece. Oh, that was exciting! It had appeared last March that Phoebe's life might end in a miscarriage and things were kind of touchy for awhile. And then, my sister-in-law was having all kinds of problems with premature labor the first part of September, which was a little too early for Phoebe to be making an appearance, so that was a bit worrisome, too. But here she was, finally, 8lbs, 4oz, completely healthy and completely whole. It was just a few days later that she was nestled in my arms and I was making little baby noises at her. So sweet!

As I reflected on the events of this one week, the song from Lion King, "The Circle of Life" popped into my head. If you read the lyrics to the song, they're actually pretty non-sensical and full of the new-agey, self-centered tripe that passes for intellectualism today. But the idea of the "circle of life" is what I was actually thinking about. Life is on-going. People die and new people are born. And the living happens in between. Judy's story was finished, the final chapter lived out. Her legacy is all that is left. But Phoebe's - well, her book is waiting to be written.

All of us have the book of our lives. And all of us will have a final chapter. It's what happens between chapter one and the end that defines who we are and how we will be remembered. I'm after more than that, though. I hope, like Judy, I'm leaving a legacy for those that knew and loved me. I'm not worried about being immortalized forever and I know that within a few generations my descendants will be saying, "Sarah Who?" And that's all right. But for now, I'm writing my book. I hope it turns out well.

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