Joe needed me to half-carry him to the frigid latrine, and back. Gave him a small dose of Roxinol. He napped. I arranged the supplies in the cupboard, went outside to savor a steaming cup of coffee in the white stillness. Someone had stacked the firewood neatly in a metal crib, a foot away from the house, with a five-gallon bucket of kindling. All of it covered by a green tarp, secured by a bungee cord.
Dog-sized footprints circled the cabin. Must have been several, circling, turning, circling back. Wolves? Coyotes? Wild dogs?
In the cabin, Joe has thrown back the top of his sleeping bag. His hands are moving on his chest, one hand squeezes into a fist, then punches the air. His three-fingered hand taps out staccato trumpet melodies on the blanket, Flight of the Bumblebee.
I ask him if he wants me to read to him. His eyes widen—what a good idea!—yes!
What I have with me, in my pack, is Walden, the one thing that will stop Joe’s hands, the squeezing, the punching. Nothing will stop Joe’s hands but Walden.
I open it and read aloud. Thoreau is describing a day spent sitting in his doorway, just watching, just listening, as the sun rose, crossed the sky, and set, the light and shadows changing imperceptibly:
There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hand. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a reverie, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time.
Joe’s hands folded on his chest, naked crucified Christ down from the cross, laid out on the suffering ground, his legs stretched out on top of his sleeping bag, eyes closed.
“Don’t shtop,” Joe says.
Why is he talking this way? The “S” isn’t working. But he’s not taking much morphine. Maybe he’s losing control of his lips and teeth.
I mark my place with my finger and lay my hand where the invisible cord connects to my own chest. His chest is dry and hot. I want to cool it with my breath. I breathe coolness from my own chest into his, into the invisible cord, into the connection.
Then I read.
I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works. For the most part, I minded not how the hours went. The day advanced as if to light some work of mine; it was morning, and lo, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished.
“Shtop,” Joe says.
I look up. “What’s wrong?”
“Don’t wanna hear…about time. Tell me…about the farm…when we were kids.”
That’s what I do. I tell him about the natural world of our childhood, the farm. A fat bumblebee buzzes on a purple thistle blossom, Joe and I catch it in a Mason jar, poke holes in the lid for air, and throw in some thistle blossoms for the bee to sit on. Birds sing in the morning and late afternoon, a leaf falls in the creek by our cricket church and makes widening circles, the cricket angel choir starts up their chorus, Glory to God in the Highest, we lie on our backs and chew Indian grass, watch the sunlight flicker through alder leaves and sprinkle rainbow colors in the creek.
Joe rests, listens, and is quiet. His hands lie on his chest, still.
After awhile, he turns his head to me and opens his eyes.
“How ya doin’?”
I choke a little. “Joe, don’t worry about me, I’m fine. I just wonder how you are doing?”
He waves his hand around the room. “Thish place…it’s jusht…right for me now.”
He takes a deep, long breath. “I’m ready for some healing.”
I bring in more kindling and stoke the fire while I gather everything I know about healing, collecting it in my mind. I rehearse the steps, the feelings, the movements. Should I start running healing through his feet, or his head? The answer is clear in my mind. His feet.
I pull a chair up to the foot of Joe’s bunk and sit down. Rub his bare feet while he relaxes and sinks into an apparent nap.
Prayer, first, holding Joe’s feet, asking for that elusive Divine Intelligence, asking for trust that whatever happened would be right for Joe, for his best good. Pray that somehow, however it turned out, I could accept the outcome. Pray until the warm energy begins to vibrate in my hands.
I let light pour into me through my hot spot, fill up my egg-shaped aura. Paint the eggshell indigo blue on the outside; protective.
My thoughts became still. The flow of energy begins. Time goes on, or maybe stops. I step aside from my body and allow my spirit to float, watching from above the room while my hands on Joe’s feet continue to vibrate with all my passion, love, longing and energy; energy flowing heat into Joe’s body for timeless minutes, or hours.
I enter an altered state. We are children, we hold hands and float into the starless sky. Joe guides me effortlessly, shows me the silver cords that trail from our bodies back to the cabin. He gestures at the darkness, smiling. So that’s what he described before, where he went during his coma , I think. The darkness was warm, and full of unseen sights, sounds, and beings. I didn’t want to leave. We floated, turning playfully sometimes, our silver cords tangling.
But Joe tugs me back the way we came, silver cords following behind.
The guardian angels hadn’t come along. They must still be waiting at the cabin. I have to go back.
I collapse into my body in the chair at the end of Joe’s bunk. My arms cramp, and the flow stops and then there is nothing but the smell of body odor, wood smoke and evergreens. Joe hasn’t moved, hasn’t flickered even an eyelash. I remember to burn off the energy the way Magdalena taught me, so it won’t harm me, let it burn in my internal furnace and drift out the hot spot on top of my head as white smoke. I press my palms against the floor until the buzzing stops.
Joe’s eyes flicker open and gaze at me without understanding. “You…we…where did we go?”
“I dreamed—I guess it was a dream—that we were floating in that dark, warm place you’ve described. Then we came back.”
Joe says, “I brought you back. I could have stayed. But we’re not done yet.”
I’m hungry. Joe isn’t. I step outside for more kindling and more fire wood. A light, drifty kind of snow is falling. The flakes are weightless, floating sideways and up, as well as down.
I cook blue box mac and cheese and eat it all myself. Then, while Joe naps, I make a pot of rice pudding, cook the rice, add whole milk and cream, stir until the spoon stands up by itself in the pudding. Shake on some nutmeg. Dessert.
Joe wakes up enough to eat a few spoonfuls of pudding, and smiles with contentment. Quiet eyes.
I give him water. Help him zip up his sleeping bag. He is soon asleep, his soft snores keeping me company while I climb into my p.j.’s and up to the top bunk.
I pick up the hatchet leaning against the wall by the door and set out to cut more kindling. I’m using it up fast. There are new tracks around the cabin in the fresh snow, and what might be human footprints.
Filling in with the snow falling now,
I tug back the tarp and see that the kindling bucket had been filled. Who…? A hiker, maybe? Cross-country skier? There is nothing to see but white, the frozen lake, snow-laden trees, no human habitation except Joe and me.
Could it be Giff? No, he had promised.
“Guardian angels, for sure,” I mutter to myself, and carry a load of wood and kindling into the cabin.
Joe slept half the morning, very still in his sleeping bag. Comatose, I thought. His eyelids fluttered from time to time, his lips moved slightly, dreaming.
I stoke the fire, drink coffee and eat rice pudding while I watch him sleep, wondering what the day will bring.
When he opens his eyes and focuses on me, his first words are, “I get it now.”
I fill a cup with water, sit on his bunk and help him drink it in tiny sips. Smooth his damp hair away from his forehead. “You get what?”
“’Bout healing…healing is only of the mind…whether or not the body follows.”
He wants rice pudding for breakfast. I warm a cupful for him.
“Does that mean…well, how do you mean that, Joe? Healing of the mind?”
He looks rested. “Means peace, inshide.”
“How does that happen? Some kind of Grace? A gift? Or do you have to work at it?”
I could use a little more peace of mind. Inside.
“It’sh your mishing piece…”
I feed him a spoonful of warm rice pudding. He swallows carefully and pushes the spoon away.
“Yesh. It’sh a mystery. Have to shurrender.”
“So you’ve given up?” The final stage of death and dying—Acceptance.
Joe knows what I don’t, yet. “Shurrender. Not asheptance, not giving up. Both…and peace, trust…” He pauses to breathe, waits to speak again.
A skittering of tiny feet tells me there are mice in the cabin. A slide of snow glides off the cabin roof onto the woodpile with a soft shushing sound.
“…living …dying…doeshn’t matter. Shurrender, Addie.” He smiles. “You should…try it.”
“What do I surrender to?”
“God’s Will…perfect happiness. That’sh what I get—I’m happy…even if I’m dying.”
Perfectly happy, while he’s dying? Maybe it’s the morphine talking. No, he hasn’t had morphine today.
“Once I got that…” he says, “…not afraid now. Not afraid of anything…not even dying.”
I offer him another spoonful of rice pudding. He tastes it, licks his dry lips, reaches his claw hand for the cup of water.
“I went away lasht night…” he says. “Space walk…but that cord…tethered to the mother ship.” He gestures to the cabin. “Here. With you.”
Joe pushes at the zipper on his sleeping bag, and I unzip it for him.
“Joe, I’ll try the surrender thing. It feels like giving up, to me, so it doesn’t make sense that we should be doing this turbo healing at the same time as we’ve given up on it actually healing you.”
His lips curl into a half smile. “You listening? Not giving up. Shurrender to…God. A miracle. Healing me…not your job.”
My hands tingle. “I’ll spend the whole day working on that. When do you want your next healing treatment?”
“Now.” He relaxed into his sleeping bag, rotated his head on the pillow, closed his eyes and folded his hands on his chest.”
I look at my watch. Nearly noon. We have the rest of the day. I wonder how much his one little body can take of the energy flow?
This time I position a chair at the head of his bunk. I remember how I had brought him out of a coma with my hands on his head. And yes, that time I had managed a degree of surrender. I remembered saying a prayer, asking for some kind of Divine Intelligence to take over, asked for help in trusting that, no matter how this came out, whatever happened would be right for Joe. Prayed without really believing, and kept praying until I finally believed. Believed that what was right for Joe would be—would have to be—acceptable to me, too.
Somehow, I will have to reach that state again.
I pray for a long time, until I finally believe. I can surrender to whatever outcome we achieve. We are doing this together, and Joe has surrendered.
Clearing my aura and filling it with golden light takes a while longer. Clearing my mind another while longer.
Finally, I place my hands on Joe, cradling his head and ears. He sighs, deeply.
The warm/cool energy flows through my hands, so strongly they vibrate and buzz.
Joe has a convulsion.
Too much, too much, too much! I start to withdraw my hands, but an invisible Presence holds them in place. Joe settles down. He is unconscious, near comatose.
I try not to be terrified. Surrender, surrender, surrender. This is all part of the healing. My kyky healed Joe when he was 14, brought him back from near death. I move my hands to the top of his head as I had then, and see him relax more deeply. I do the step-aside and watch from the corner of the room.
In an altered state. Not floating in deep space, but my spirit watches as Joe lies in perfect serene peace, Addie’s hands cradling his head. Time passes. A lot of time. My hands vibrate automatically and Joe falls into a slow-breathing comatose sleep.
The energy stops. I shake out my numb hands, press them to the floor, start up the furnace in my heart and burn off extra energy, white smoke out the top of my head, like when the Vatican chooses a Pope.
I’m shaking while I stoke up the fire, shaking while I heat a can of chicken noodle soup, shaking while I eat the soup. Shaking while I walk outside and breathe the shining air. I walk to a fallen log, brush off the snow, and sit for an hour, listening to the rustling silence of tiny animals. My jeans are soaked. I go in and change to my p.j.’s. It’s early yet, not yet sundown, but close.
Mike will come in a couple of days to take Joe out. Dead or alive.
Too exhausted to stay with him, I collapse on the top bunk, drained.
Joe will wake up, need pain meds or kyky. Or he won’t wake up at all.
I listen to Joe’s slow, halting breathing. Feel my own breath slowing down. It’s time.
I sense Joe is going away. And that means I am, too. Without him, I won’t be a person anymore. I can feel my breath synchronize with his, feel my spirit leaving my body, spinning out on the silver cord, coming back, hearing the breaths, spinning out again, sinking, disappearing.
I’m detached from the outcome.
And finally, sinking into a warm, dark oblivion, I surrender to the mystery. I’m too weary to resist it.
I hope I’ll wake up wherever Joe has gone, even if it’s someplace other than Heaven.
Dropping into an exhausted sleep, a thought: “When a warrior dies for her purpose, she truly becomes a hero.”
At the first light of dawn, something hits my hand hard, swinging it.
I sit up too fast, forget where I am, and fall out of bed from the top bunk.
Confused, I pick myself up, rubbing my elbow where it hit the floor.
Joe is sitting straight up in bed, awake and alert, eyes sparkling.
He gives me an impish grin.