"I love you, you love me, I trust you, write whatever you want."
That's what my friend Patty told me when I asked if I could blog about what's been happening in our friendship these past few months.
So, with love in my heart, and honoring her trust, here is a bit of the story.
Some friends have a "meet-cute" story. Patty and I have a "meet-traumatic" story.
It was traumatic on my end, anyway, because I was in the midst of a nervous breakdown and she was the counselor trying to drag me back up the side of the cliff. (I wrote about all this in As Soon As I Fell--she's the petite, dark-haired counselor in the prologue.)
Patty was the first person in my life who ever said it was okay to be mad. (She is not to blame for how far I've taken that idea and run with it from time to time.)
Patty was the person who stood beside me on one of the worst days of my life and said, "This sucks. (Truer words were never spoken, and none of us knew how much suckier it would all get after that, before it got better.)
As Soon As I Fell ends with the Arosi New Testament dedication in 2005. Right after that event, we went back to Ukarumpa, that Mayberry-slash-MKnightShamalayan'sVillage (and I mean that in the most loving way) in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.
During those two years, Patty and I became friends. I was no longer having a nervous breakdown, our kids were in the same grade, we quilted in the same group, and we ended up as friends.
She and her husband, Brian, even invited us to join their weekly Bible study group. When you live overseas, people come and go constantly and some of the couples from their group had all gone at once, leaving Patty and Brian and one other couple sort of stranded. So they invited us to join, along with another couple who shall remain nameless butyouknowwhoyouare, my darlings. (I'm protecting the reputations of the blameless here. If they want to out themselves they can.)
And now, if you had an illusions left about missionaries, let me destroy them, once and for all.
We tried some Bible study. We really did. We had good intentions. We were nice missionaries.
But I think the serious scholars had left the building.
Because what we really did was watch Alias.
And then 24.
And then Alias again.
We made excellent desserts, like Patty's chocolate and raspberry oatmeal bars. (Heads up, chica, I need that recipe.)
We laughed a lot.
We cried some.
We laughed some more.
Eighteen months or so later, Patty needed to go back to the States for some medical care. Their teenage kids stayed at Ukarumpa, living at the boarding school during those weeks. And that's when pizza night was born. I started inviting their kids over every Saturday night to have pizza with us. (Homemade you guys. Because no other option and yes, I used to be a hero in the kitchen. Now there is Papa Murphy's.)
Fast forward a couple of years. Patty and Brian and their kids are living in Houston. We're in Dallas. We miss each other a lot. One Saturday morning, I wake up and I say, "We need pizza night." Andy says, "Today?" And I say, "Yes."
So we get in the car and drive to Houston for pizza night. With our dog, Buddy, having a panic attack the whole way. But he needed to meet his cousin-dogs, so he dealt with it.
Fast forward again, and Patty and Brian have moved to Dallas! A mile from us! Pizza night, the truly moveable feast, reconvened mostly at their new house, because swimming pool. The kids may or may not have figured out how to jump from the roof of the garage into the pool. An activity which has been banned for all time. I don't care how big you are, you're still my kid. NO JUMPING OFF THE ROOF. (Yes, "then mom got mad," blahblahblah. OFF THE ROOF. BECAUSE I SAID SO.)
The kids are all grown up now, so pizza night isn't observed quite so frequently any more. We've adjusted to somewhat quieter adultish occasions, like Patty's 60th birthday this past February.
She hadn't been well after Christmas, with a lingering upper respiratory infection and a nasty bout of athsma along with it. But for her birthday, Brian invited a few close friends over and we sat around their dining room table reflecting on the beauty that Patty had brought into all of our lives.
"I'm all in," I said that night. "You saved my life back in 2003. You can ask me for anything, and it's yours."
In March, the diagnosis came.
Patty has ALS.
What I knew about ALS at the time was the ice bucket challenge and Lou Gehrig.
I still haven't read up on it, because I just can't stand it, but I've learned a bit about it anyway in the last few months, and what I can say with certainty about ALS is this:
It is taking one of the most vital, beautiful people I know and trapping all that life and energy inside.
Honestly, we don't have a lot of time to reflect on that, although it hits us at times, and then we cry and hold onto each other.
And then we pull it together so we can deal with what is.
What is? A lot of appointments: OT, PT, treatment team. Figuring out how to get up, get down. How to sleep. How to eat. What walls need to go, and which door trim, so the power chair will fit when it comes next week.
You know what else is?
A lot of tenderness.
This is my first journey through a terminal illness at close range. And as terribleterribleterrible as it is, there's a tenderness that comes.
We're all in.
I'm so grateful for the smallest thing I can do to make life a little bit easier.
If there's a chair I can move, I will move it. If there's a pill I can sort, I will sort it. If there's a meal I can bring, I will bring it.
There's nothing I won't do to try and make it better.
I might even find myself taking on the squeezy-food industry in the process of all this, because I want to know, WHY are blueberries, peas, and purple corn smushed up together? Why is butternut squash in every single fruit pack? What is this obsession with putting the veggies and fruit together? WHY WHY WHY can't they just make FRUIT by itself? In this giant display of squeezy fruit, why are there only TWO packs of unadulterated fruit?
Babies everywhere want to know. And now me. I want to know, too.
My friend Wendy told me to check the lunchbox aisle, and sure enough, there's regular fruit over there in squeezy packs. (We didn't have this when my kids were in school. You had to eat your applesauce with a spoon back then. And we hiked 10 miles in the snow, up hill both ways.) But lunchbox squeezy pack deal just proves my point: when human beings can talk, they will tell for sure that they don't want broccoli in their applesauce.
I tell you the squeezy pack story because at this point, humor is our favorite coping mechanism.
We may weep our eyes out, but we will laugh our heads off, too.
And that's what real life is made of: the horrible and the hilarious, all mixed up like mangoes and mashed potatoes.
"Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Do not be afraid." Frederich Buechner
(I'm not there yet on the "do not be afraid" but "beautiful and terrible" rings true.)
"The call to be grateful is a call to trust that every moment can be claimed as the way of the cross that leads to new life." Henri Nouwen
"He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." Paul, in Colossians 1:17
(I've always thought about that verse in terms of creation, but now I'm thinking about in terms of holding the beautiful and terrible in some work of redemption that I don't understand but cling to with all my heart.)
Patty's been reminiscing lately about her dad's long battle with cancer. When she asked him how he was getting through it, he said, "I give it over to Jesus."
And while that makes almost no sense, it also makes all the sense in the world.
We give this over to Love.
We trust in that Love.
We receive that Love.
We share that Love, like the bread and the wine, nourishing us bit by bit until That Day.