I walk the several blocks from my place of employment to the hospital where George lies unintelligible and profoundly bruised. I found him days before when his sweet son, my friend, could not reach him by phone. George lay crumpled naked and vulnerable in his bathtub after suffering a stroke. I kneeled by the bathtub and held his hand until the emergency squad arrived. "Help is on the way, Geroge; help is on the way." Tears stream down my face now. I can't believe my brilliant friend has met the confluence we all dread--old age and the loss of normalcy.
The hospital is like all hosptials--doctors scurrying in white coats, stethoscopes wound around their necks like Olympic medals--the smell, indescribable and unpleasant. I feel enveloped by a palpable anxiety--an amalgam of grief, uncertainty and lament--my health an incongruency.
I enter George's room. His sister reads to him there by his bedside. I want to run away and run to him simultaneously. His sister leaves her chair and bids me sit while she takes a needed break. George is encumbered with tubes, his shoulder bare where the faded hospital gown has slipped down. I touch his shoulder, my hand warm on his pale, freckled skin. "George," I whisper. "It's Priscilla." He is shaking uncontrollably and flails his hands toward the sound of my voice. He tries to talk. I have no lantern for this. No map for this misery. He tries to speak. I do think he knows me. I get very close and say, "George, don't try to talk, just rest. I'll talk to you." And so I tell him I'm reading his latest book. I remember our walk by the battery when we talked shop--how hard it is to keep writing when there is so much competition. And yet we both agreed on that lovely evening watching the sunset that we would always write, even if we never made money. (Unlike me, though, George made his living writing prior to his retirement, an esteemed editor for Prentice-Hall.)
George moans, still trying to speak. And so I do what seems to happen spontaneously. I place my hand on his, over the tubing, and pray for him. I sing softly and badly some hymns I know. I ask the presence and light of Jesus to fill him, to comfort him, to heal him--for angels to enter the room and ward off the ugliness of disease and pain and sorrow.
It is time for me to leave. By now both of his beloved sons are there to help decide what is next. I go once again to his side and place my hand on his head, kiss his cheek. "God's peace, George. God's peace."
I am weeping as I make my way back to the office. The yellow and red leaves crunch under my boots. The beauty of the autuman day feels too normal. I am chasing normal now. Just let me get back to the office and sink under the surface of my to-dos and tasks. I want to forget that George can't do that. He may never see normal again. "God, carry him," I breathe. "Let your grace carry him."