Monday, March 29, 2010

A Friend most in the Present

I believe the phrase is: The Past is History, the Future a Mystery, and the Present a Gift.

I've been spending time getting these ideas more clearly in my head. I've been listening to life-coaches and spiritual seekers as they are interviewed. I've been reading tales and suggestions for being in the present. I practice yoga, go biking with my kids, relish a good meal, stop to sniff the flowers.

But the concept is taken to a completely different level when I am in the present presence of Isabelle. If you go back through my blog posts to earlier tales of my goat cheese maker, you will read of her. She is a dear and wonderful friend now in the late stages of brain cancer.

Three weeks ago, I visited with Jonas for lunch and caught the magical moment of birthing goats. I was also privileged to share a moment of grace with Isabelle. She'd stopped her chemotherapy a couple of weeks earlier and was enjoying a time of renewed appetite, strength, humor. I shared a meal with her, Paul Pierre, two friends and Jonas. We laughed, we enjoyed the dish of Hachi Parmentier with chopped and sauteed swiss chard prepared by Paul Pierre (well we did, Jonas enjoyed the bread and butter and the orange cake). All but Isabelle partook of JP's rosé wine I'd brought along. She took a few pills with bubbly water. When the conversation at the table became a bit much, Isabelle went to play a game of solitaire on the computer. Yes, it would have been completely out of character two years' ago for her to do anything on the computer beyond business, but when you live with a tumor that is consuming your concept as she puts it, old assumptions go out the window.

I called Paul Pierre Saturday. I caught myself. I'd been going to ask, ça va? That classic and light-hearted opening to a conversation. But that wouldn't do at all. You're not truly a friend to someone living what he is living if you stay in the trite and hackneyed habits of simple conversation.

How did the past week go? Badly. Isabelle had an epileptic fit. She went into the hospital for a couple of days. She is home now, with an IV hookup, and her memory is gone. She is happy, lovely, self-deprecating and gracious as always. And she is in the present as few of us shall ever be.

In the time we spent together today, I was able to show her photographs, tell a few stories, laugh and share. And though she took it all in avidly, when she made attempts to respond to a train of thought, she just couldn't. I would finish her sentence, and then she'd say with a smile, humbly, excusing herself, "j'ai des trous. Je suis un peu bête, ça va passer j'espère."

This continued throughout my time. Tomorrow I return to be there while Paul Pierre does errands. I'll help make lunch, take her out to the sun, show her more photos, tell her about the kids, the goats. She'll listen, take it in, and perhaps just a few minutes later, she'll have forgotten what I just said.

Will she remember that I was here today?

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