A Birthday Present

My children remind me I’m much too transparent and forthcoming; “too much information, MOM!”   They could be right.   But some things shouldn’t be kept a secret.

If I were really transparent, I wouldn’t need to undergo a screening colonoscopy.  The human body only has two semi-transparent body parts–the tympanic membrane and the lens of the eye.  Both are wonderful windows to what can be seen behind and beyond the outer surface.   The bowel simply doesn’t cooperate without getting invasive.

So I spent my 56th birthday this week prepping and undergoing my second screening colonoscopy.   My first colonoscopy, at age 51, yielded several colonic polyps, one of which was considered pre-cancerous.  I don’t have a known family history of colon cancer (though my maternal grandmother did die in her sixties of a metastatic abdominal cancer of unknown source).

I’ve seen colorectal cancers strike people as young as 35, even those without known risk factors.  I’m even more of a believer that this is a completely preventable cancer if appropriate screening is done early enough.  The debate from a clinical evidence standpoint is whether a colonoscopy saves more lives than a limited sigmoidoscopy does.   In today’s Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), an editorial says that studies are not proving colonoscopy to be particularly effective at picking up lesions beyond the reach of the sigmoidoscope and isn’t necessarily saving lives.  This is where the studies and the individual patient don’t always agree.  My polyps have been beyond the range of the sigmoidoscope.  Only colonoscopy could find them.

Like it or not, I’m not keeping this a secret.  If you are fifty or older, you need to be screened.  If you have a family history of polyps or colon cancer, you need to be screened even earlier.

It’s the best birthday present you could ever give yourself.

Walking Through Stubble

A pass of the blade leaves behind
rough stems, a blunt cut field of
paths through naked slopes and
bristly contoured hollows.

Once swept and stored, the hay stays
baled for a future day, its deep roots yielding
newly tender growth,  tempted forth
by warmth and summer rain.

A full grassy beard sprouts
lush again, to obscure the landscape
rise and fall, conceal each molehill,
pothole, ditch and burrow.

I trace the burgeoning stubble with gentle touch,
fingertips graze the rise of cheek, the swell of upper lip
and indent of dimpled chin with healed scar, the stalwart jaw,
the terrain oh so familiar it welcomes me back home.

On Loan

Hilda was sent as part of a mission outreach to our small rural church over fifty years ago by a larger church in town.  She was the music maker of the group of individuals sent to minister to the unchurched children and families in the vicinity of the Chapel, many of whom were Hispanic and Native American.  She played piano and accordion, both with great energy and gusto, so hymns were sung with enthusiasm and a distinct rhythm and style under Hilda’s accompaniment.  There was singing time, some group worship time, and then the age groups would be split into classes for Bible stories and more in depth study.

There was something infectious about a little lady who loved her hymns so much.  She knew all the “old timey” songs like “Bringing in the Sheaves” and “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” with punchy choruses and a parade like beat.  She also knew her Bible and kept careful track of the passages she heard illuminated by sermons Sunday after Sunday.  In fact, Hilda kept track of everything.  She started a daily diary in her early twenties and kept documenting the daily events, weather, who was sick, who was born, who was wed and who was not in volume after volume, resulting in a closet full of diaries that contained more history than most encyclopedias.  She was “blogging” before anyone knew what that meant.

She kept it up until the day she fell on her floor at age 95, sustaining painful compression fractures in her back, and waited patiently for someone to find her hours later even though she had an emergency call button to use, but was concerned it might be a bother to someone if she pushed it.  To recuperate, she went to live in an extended care facility, and there kept a running list of who came to visit.

Hilda and her family loved her little mission church, which eventually grew to become its own congregation with its own pastor, and twice a year, in celebration of her birthday and the anniversary of her arrival at the Chapel, during the offertory she would either play several hymns on her accordion or on the piano, or both.  If she wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the singing from the congregation, she would tell us all “I know you can do better!” and play the hymn again.  We learned to sing it really loud the first time because her hearing was going.

Her last time playing for church was only a few weeks before her injury.  She was as punchy and enthusiastic as ever.

Yesterday morning, Hilda was awakened by a nurses’ aide for breakfast, and was alert and ready for the day.  When the aide returned a short time later, Hilda’s spirit had left and gone away, leaving her earthly shell behind.

She was on loan to the Chapel all these years, she liked to remind us, having never become a member.   Hilda was clear that when the time came, her original home church in town would be the one to take care of her final journey.   So next week, the Chapel people will go to the larger church in town to celebrate Hilda’s favorite hymns and favorite scriptures, knowing with full confidence that she was one of our own, on loan from God.

Let Evening Come by Jane Kenyon

written by Jane Kenyon as she was fighting terminal cancer

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.
Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.
Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.
To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.
Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.


Not long ago on winter mornings
Waking dark to part
From your warm side,
Leaving behind my soft imprint,
I wrap up  in robe
To walk the gravel drive
For the newspaper

Our hilltop farm
Lies silent amid fallow fields
Moon shadows
Broad across my path
Star sparks overhead
Tree lined yard shields
The house from road.

In ink of early morning
I walk noiseless;
Step out to the mailbox
Then turn~ startled~
A flashlight
Approaching on the road-
An early walker and his dog
Illuminate me in dawn disarray
Like a deer in headlights:
My ruffled hair,  my sleep lined face
Vulnerability suddenly
Uncovered in the darkness;

Now summer morning
Wakes me early to streaming light
Poured out on quilt and blankets.
I part from your warmth again
Readied for ritual walk.
Dew sparkling below
Rich foliage above
Road stretches empty
For miles east and west

Crossing to the mailbox
I reach for the paper
Suddenly surrounded by
A bovine audience
Appreciative and nodding
Riveted by my bold approach
In broad daylight.
Yet abruptly scatter, tails in the air
When in rumpled robe and woolen slippers
I dance and twirl
In hilltop celebration
Of ordinary life and extraordinary love

Easy in the Harness

Freedom of Speech by Norman Rockwell

You have freedom when you’re easy in your harness.  ~Robert Frost

It takes reminding that “The Fourth of July” is “Independence Day”.  We get so caught up in the date on the calendar, the holiday atmosphere, the gatherings and food and fireworks, that the gift of freedom proclaimed boldly by our country’s forefathers and defended by each succeeding generation ends up a secondary consideration.

Yet it is primary, in every way.

Freedom from Fear by Norman Rockwell

We are a working people.  We are devoted to betterment of life for ourselves and our countrymen, as well as the citizens of the world.   We shoulder much burden in that pursuit, and it is worth every ounce of sweat, every sore muscle, every drop of blood, every tear.

To feel the blessing of the harness–that is freedom.

Freedom of Worship by Norman Rockwell

Call Me

April 26, 2008
vigil at my mother’s bedside

Lying still, your mouth gapes open
I wonder if you breathe your last
Your hair a white cloud
Your skin softened from disuse
No washing, digging, planting
Gardens or children

Where do your dreams take you?
At times you wake in your childhood home
Rolling wheat fields, boundless days of freedom.
Other naps take you to your teaching days
Grammar and drama, speech and essays.
Yesterday you were a young mother again
Juggling babies, farm and your wistful dreams.

Today you looked about your empty nest
Disguised as hospital bed
Children grown, flown
You try to control through worry
Travel safely
Get a good night’s sleep
Take time to eat
Call me when you get there

I dress you as you dressed me
I clean you as you cleaned me
I love you as you loved me
You try my patience as I tried yours
I wonder if I have the strength to
Manage mothering

When I tell you the truth
Your brow furrows as it used to do
When I disappointed you
This cannot be
A bed in a room in a sterile place
Waiting for death
Waiting for heaven

And I tell you
Travel safely
Eat, please eat
Sleep well
Call me when you get there.