Three “Dog Day” Birthdays
It is a “dog day” in August, with the mercury near 90 degrees. It is the weekend and I am sitting in the backyard watching for wildlife. The birds are laying low. Our normally “Grand Central” marsh out back, our playground for the birds who fly hither and thither most of the time, is seemingly empty. The leaves on the trees are still except for the occasional breeze that cools the sweat on the body, and moves leaves on the tree I call the “penny tree” (because its leaves shimmer like so many pennies in the wind). A frog jumps at my feet in the shade taking measured leaps, all too aware of my presence despite my stillness.
Purple Loosestrife is emerging in the late summer marsh, along with Goldenrod and Joe Pie Weed. Bees swarm all over the Joe Pie Weed. Giant yellow swallow-tails flit among the Loosestrife. Every time I try to take a picture of them they are on to new horizons. In fact, no one is moving much except the insects, and they are moving in a frenzied pace as if to make up for lost time.
In torpor, my mind melding with the heat, finally I am driven to move out of the sun to shade in order to see better. Tiny fritillary fly to and fro. I look up at the still trees and feel peace, a soothing peace that my soul hungers for most of the time. It makes me feel guilty though, feeling this peace while so many near and dear to me are in distress. Perhaps I feel guilty because my husband is inside resting, way too tired from a hard week at work, at a hard job, giving therapy to the mentally ill in the South Bronx. He is in a foul mood after a bad week and it is his father’s birthday, the first birthday since his father died last fall. But deep down I know the guilt largely stems from the fact that my brother is dying of cancer. Lung cancer. Stage 3. Inoperable. With 2-4 months left to live. I spoke to him on the phone the afternoon before his first chemo the other day. My macho brother said, “I am scared.” A first for a brother who rarely admits to any feelings at all. And he called me right after the chemo to say he was okay, but I have not heard since. I hope it is because he had a test Friday and has no results yet to share. I fear though that the silence means he is feeling sick from the chemo.
Chemo is different these days. When my best friend, Mom and Dad had chemo 16, 22 and 25 years ago, you could die from it. And it made them very ill. More people are surviving today but as far as chemo goes, things have not progressed that much.
So here I sit contemplating nature, feeling one with God while my brother sits in Michigan with his wife and three adopted kids, dying. Is it fair? No. Will we visit him? Maybe. If I can sedate myself so as not to go to pieces when I see him at 5’7″ and 106 pounds, looking unlike the brother I ever knew. Can he pull through? Possibly. More people are surviving cancer these days. Can it be possible that my kid brother has cancer? It can’t be. Do I cry? On and off. At the most inopportune times. Is my brother brave? Yes. Because he didn’t have health insurance and because he was afraid and because he was in pain, he did not go the doctor for a year. He fought his cancer on his own with ibuprofen! Now he is on morphine. That’s brave and not brave. Making a joke saying, “Well, I STILL have my hair!” just a few hours after his first chemo is funny. It is also brave. My brother didn’t get help until he collapsed one day, bringing up blood. Losing my balance, I had fallen on my face one hour before my brother collapsed. Is there a link between loved ones that operates when one is failing? I think so.
Although I sit writing in the cooling shade, transported to another plane, I am thinking of my brother and my husband and his widowed stepmother and his sister whose birthday is also next week. Susan had a mastectomy last summer. She is just one of the many suffering in our world. The “dog days” of summer are upon us and for some there are nothing but dog days.
I absorb all the life about me, the frog hopping periodically, the catbird whining, the insects flying frantically, gliding butterflies that fly by too fast, and I wonder about this thing called life. How long it seems sometimes, and yet it goes by in a blink of the eye. In the cooling air as the shadows lengthen, bringing more shade and delightful zephyrs, the birds return and a robin eyes me curiously. I give thanks to the Creator for giving us islands of beauty in a sometimes grim world, for the islands of happiness, in devastation, for islands of peace that well up from the soul within, even in the worst of times.
Happy Birthday, Dad! We miss you. Happy Birthday, Susan! May you remain cancer-free. And, most of all, Happy Birthday, Tony! May your birthday next week not be your last! God bless you all!
Note: The above was written in August, 2009. My brother lived another two years and died June 17, 2011. My sister-in-law celebrated her 4th year cancer-free just a month ago.
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