15 minutes. That's all it takes.
It's Monday morning.
She tells me to uncross my feet and clench my hand. I'm rusty at this blood draw business. She goes for the sweet spot, the depression in my right arm that has been stuck repeatedly for blood work over the last 19 months and has yet to disappoint in the amount of blood it produces.
But the vein rolls, and a small squeak escapes my mouth as she pokes around with the needle trying to salvage the poke. Its no good. We move to my left arm.
She jabs another spot and I squirm with the intense, albeit, brief pain as she tries to elicit a stream of blood.
But it trickles and we watch in awe as a bright purple bruise appears instantly.
What is up with my blood?
As the smooth steel of needle pierces my skin for the third time, I grip the chair with my toes as pain shoots through my arm. Minutes later we're finished, although she says if they can't use the precious few drops we've squeezed out of me, she'll call me to come back.
15 minutes ~ is the amount of time for my reality of cancer world to shatter through the serenity I was holding onto.
The days may not be so bright and balmy—yet the quiet and melancholy that linger around them is fraught with glory. Over everything connected with autumn there lingers some golden spell—some unseen influence that penetrates the soul with its mysterious power. ~Northern Advocate
If you are going on a "retreat," you want it to come with a name like Carmel of Mary. Because it doesn't seem possible upon arriving, that you are really just miles outside of Wapheton, North Dakota at a Carmelite Monastery.
A golden hue of light cast a steady glow over the landscape as we drove up Friday night. My friend Roxane (through an extension of Mother Joseph Marie) invited me to attend two days and two nights of a retreat with her.
Autumn in all of its splendor greeted us upon arrival.
We spoke to Mother Joseph, the one time we would see and speak with any of the Sisters while we were there. The Sisters are cloistered, and spend 7 hours out of the day in prayer. They are not seen or heard.
The silence was both staggering, and serene all at once.
My mind hushed and dialed down, as my eyes feasted on the glory all around. Words it seems, became unnecessary. Language was surrounding us in the sounds of the birds, the hum of the wind, the whirl of the leaves, and the smell of the harvest-tinged earth.
This heart delicately outlined in the grass was the first thing we saw as we got out of the car. Love was at my feet, but I couldn't have know, really, it was surrounding us at every moment.
The Carmelite Monastery below. Roxane and I were made two hot meals daily, and summoned by the ringing of the bell. The bell also signaled the start of Mass every day at 7 am, and several other times of prayer for the Sisters, beginning at midnight.
I had no earthly idea how much I'd feel like I was walking back in time when I entered the private guest house we stayed in. From the green couch, to the blonde wood of the desk, to the gold colored drapes and the rounded arches in the walls, I felt like I was at my Grandmother's house.
I have to say the house was not just cozy, but spotless. I mean not a speck of dust or dirt anywhere. The linens were pressed. The kitchen countertops were lined with baskets of fruit, fresh baked bread, snacks, granola bars, and tea. There were eggs and milk in the fridge and home made applesauce. The simplicity of the rustic setting had such a warmth and charm to it. I was enchanted. I was discovering the truth of the saying "love is in the details."
I picked the blue room as my own. Reminiscent of my grandmother's home again with the chenille bedspreads and the crocheted pillows- the soft golden sunshine bounced off the blue walls enveloping me in tranquility. I slept and read for hours. My gratitude poured out in an endless stream in my journal.
The Sisters subsist off a garden plot, and donations brought in from the community. The food was so lavish, in such a down- home hospitable way. We would arrive in the dining room and our food would be placed in a lazy susan that spun around from the kitchen to the dining room. We couldn't see the Sisters who prepared the food, and they couldn't see us. They would ring a bell and then our food would appear on the turnstile.
This lunch consisted of roast lamb with some savory sauce on it, rutabagas, squash, tomato salad, fruit salad and a cookie. The food was earthy and well seasoned, and mouth watering and so tasty.
On our last night Roxane delivered a note to Mother Joseph asking permission for us to attend their Compline prayers. We were welcomed to come inside and listen. The Sisters sit behind a screened area. But their voices were so pure, sweet and clear. Gregorian chant encompassed much of their prayers and I left feeling the love the Sisters share with each other and for Jesus.
We found that as we left the dining area after dinner, the sun would just be setting. We would grab our cameras and chase after the sunlight as it danced into the night.
Everywhere we turned, a click and a capture awaited us. We pored over our photos and delighted in realizing we had so many different ones, while shooting the very same things.
Everything seemed to be in alignment...
Towards the end of our stay last night we sipped tea savoring the respite for a few more minutes before we departed. How would we bring this retreat to an end?
It turns out God had it all planned out. The clouds had rolled in while we ate and it had turned overcast and melancholy. But then I happened to turn and looked back over the trees and the most radiant light streamed through one last time. I stood transfixed, chilled with goosebumps at the timing of this last visual feast. Light, God gave me light. He magnified my word and shone it brightly across the land for all to see.
“When you get to the end of all the light you know and it's time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.”
― Edward Teller
― Edward Teller
I will see Dr. Panwalkar in the morning. Today's bloodwork will inform the treatment I receive tomorrow. As I sift through my photos again, peace descends. The light is still shining through after all.
The calling of the bells...