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Day Twenty-Eight: Monastics

For today’s prompt I pondered many directions to take the entry and in the end I kept coming back to this piece that I’d written a while ago. If all goes to plan this excerpt will appear in my book, “Nearly Orthodox” that will be coming out this summer.



By Easter the second year we attended Redeemer in Nashville, Dave was finished with regular attendance at church again. He was feeling the pressure of work, still active in Chicago, which meant he spent half his time there still and half in the middle of nowhere with us. He was feeling the pressure of the leadership power struggles that had come up within a small men’s ministry he’d begun. He was feeling the pressure of the mortgage and the weight gain that came with stress and parenting four small chaos makers and tensions with me and religion and anger and the bouts of vertigo that had caused him to cut a work trip short. He lay sprawled on the couch that Holy Saturday as I led a workshop with a friend in the morning. The doctor was trying to cure the vertigo with a medicinal “reset” cocktail and rest to restore the inner ear fluid balance. He watched a four-hour documentary film about monks called “Into Great Silence” most of the day. Every time I walked through the room he was sleeping or groggy, his snoring accompanied by the silence or the chanting or the shuffling along of the Carthusian monks of the Grande Chartreuse, high in the French Alps. We both thought the chest pains he’s been having all week were muscle spasms, brought on by the hard work he’d done on getting the pool opened, his arms reaching forward over and over, pulling back the winter veil, reaching and releasing, lifting and falling with the weight of the water. By 3 o’clock that day, Dave couldn’t take the pain or the dizziness anymore. My mother, who was visiting saw his pale, sweaty skin and insisted I take him to the hospital.

The walk in clinic wouldn’t even let us past the sign in sheet. The moment the receptionist put together the color of Dave’s skin with the words “chest pain” on the white paper she directed us down the road to the emergency room. We laughed a little but her face remained serious. She shook her head and instructed us to go immediately to the ER. We’d made this our first stop, thinking that a torn ligament would be the diagnosis and muscle relaxants would be the prescription. It was a way to avoid the hours long wait that always came an ER visit but we were turned away into the rainy Holy Saturday afternoon. We moved as quickly to the car as we could to beat the gathering power of the storm and drove down the road to St. Thomas, the doubter, the one who needed proof of the resurrection. We signed in, Dave making sure to put in an appearance at the window in the hope that his complexion might speed things up and apparently it did just that. He was taken back immediately and hooked up to the heart monitor. We still laughed a little, thinking we’d put something over on them, getting in so quickly with a packed waiting room. The monitor showed nothing spectacular at first and we felt vindicated. They took blood to be sure they could rule out a heart event and Dave lobbied to go home, promising to see his regular doctor on Monday. He lobbied with the ER doc and the nurses and even his own physician by phone but no one would let him go. His age, his physical condition, his history and his symptoms worked against the idea and so, begrudgingly he stayed. The first blood test to detect the proteins that might be released in the case of a heart attack was negative. It was already late in the day and I was making the long drive home to get Dave some things for his overnight stay, angry to have Easter interrupted for a torn muscle. I reached the house, packed the bag, kissed the kids and finished the Easter baskets for the following morning then made the return trip to the hospital. The second set of test results came in when I reached the hospital and showed protein in the blood. The EKG was beginning to show some changes then and they prepped Dave and took him to the operating room before I realized what it all meant. He was still in good spirits, we both thought it was crazy and I didn’t worry. There was no clutching at the chest, no pulling over to the side of the road and drifting to the next station.

They call the left anterior descending artery “the widow maker” and Dave’s was 90% blocked. They call it this because when it is blocked it produces little to no sign of heart attack when a coronary event comes along. The artery blockage had been starving Dave’s heart for a long time, explaining the forgetfulness, the crankiness, the constant napping from exhaustion and they caught it at just the right moment. If he’d gone home he might have died that night, quietly, slipping off, into great silence. I realized then that every story, every miracle, every breath taken by followers and friends and family, they are all stations on the line, the progression from one place to another, not just places on the road, but places of the heart and of the spirit and of the journey. These are all the Stations of the Cross.