I am not a Godly gal. I’m just not. But there’s a poem that has always sung to me in the moments when I am needing to have faith in something bigger than myself. I think it was on a bookmark that I had long ago, I am certain that you are familiar with the poem – the poem about walking on the sand at the beach and noticing only one set of footprints. It is the last line that has always resonated with me. “The Lord replied, “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when I carried you.”
Tuesday morning I saw my father before he went in to surgery. Tuesday evening I saw him again. He was still “sleeping.” (I still prefer to think of him as sleeping, not heavily sedated to prevent the inevitable grasping at his breathing tube.) I kissed his forehead. I held his hand. My dad has warm hands. Always. His hands were cold as ice. They weren’t my dad’s hands. I didn’t stay long. He didn’t know I was there and I needed to keep my game face on for my step-mother. This was not the time for tears. I returned to the waiting room.
“He is still resting. I told his nurse to give you all the details.”
We had to go in one at a time because Lucy was not allowed in the ICU.
I went back to my hotel room that night. Lucy fell asleep quickly and I spent the evening staring at the wall. We woke early, both of us. I’d not be able to see my dad again until 10 in the morning. So, I did the only thing I knew to do.
Long before I found the Unitarian Church I went to the church of Sweat. Crisis makes you return to your roots. I strapped on my running shoes and with a stroller not at all intended for jogging I took off down the streets of downtown Louisville. The familiar sounds of my playlist filled my ears and my brain stopped buzzing for a few minutes. Until my iPhone said “Distance .5 miles, current pace is 8 minutes and 30 seconds per mile.” No stress here, just running about a minute faster than I usually do.
Louisville is a pretty city. The people are friendly. Most folks waved at me, many stepped out of my way. I took in the sights. Big buildings. Theaters. Street Paintings. Churches. I sighed as I have so many times in my life and thought “I wish I had a church. I’d go in one now. And pray. I’d pray my fucking ass off right now.” (See? I am not a pray-er. I suppose you don’t actually “pray your ass off,” huh?)
I kept running. Another mile. Still another mile. It was a good twenty more minutes before I realized that I DO have a church. And what do you know, downtown Louisville has a pretty big Unitarian church and I wasn’t but a block away. Tentatively I knocked on the door. “Come around back if doors are locked” read a small sign. I am not one to “bother” anyone. Ever. And before my mind could stop my feet I ran around the back of the building and pushed my stroller up their handicap ramp and rang the bell.
“Can I help you?”
The voice of the woman on the other side of the intercom made my bottom lip start to quiver. “Umm. I was hoping I could poke my head inside your sanctuary for a moment.”
She replied simply “Why do you want to “poke your head inside?”
And then the lip quiver became a tear. And another tear. “Because my dad had surgery yesterday and I think it might make me feel better to stand inside your sanctuary for a moment.”
“Certainly.” That’s all she said. And she let me in.
Many Unitarian churches have a time in their service where members of the congregation are invited to share their Joys & Concerns. It serves to build a community and to give us a moment to share in the moments of one another’s lives that make up the valleys and the peaks. With Lucy in her stroller I walked to the front of the sanctuary and said quietly to everyone and no one “As many of you know my father had surgery yesterday morning. I will be going to see him this morning. If you’d hold him in the light and send me all of the love you can for the next few hours I would really appreciate it.” I closed my eyes and stood in silence for a few moments. I wrote a note in their book and split before I might have to talk to anyone. “Thank you! Thank you so very much!!” I called out to the kindly stranger that had let me through the door.
I went straight back outside and returned to the Church of Sweat. Two more miles. A shower and a quick breakfast. Before I knew it it was 10 am and Lucy and I were heading over to the ICU.
Dad was awake. He was giving his nurse a hard time about the flavors of jell-o he’d been offered. He was sitting up in a chair. He was chock full of tubes and painkiller’s but when I said “I know you had wanted to get your surgery done early in the morning but I am so glad it was postponed until the afternoon so that I could see you before you went in” he grimaced.
“Good, Kel. I’m really glad you were glad.” I laughed. He winced.
I said “And thanks for being awake, I am just barely keeping my shit together here, and you know it is all about me, right?” He held my hand. His hands were still cold. But he was back. My dad.
Faith is a funny thing. I have spent the better part of my adult life thinking I didn’t really have any. But then I needed it. And damn if something didn’t carry me.