I See Dead People
“I see dead people.”
In the past couple of weeks I have not felt well. I don’t think anything is wrong. But I am tired. My body feels heavy and I have vague complaints that I hesitate to articulate because, by comparison with what I have endured in the recent past, they are minor. But I will confess here that the tingling in my hands sometimes drives me crazy. The ringing in my ears means that I have to be asleep to enjoy peace and quiet. I have blemishes every day after never having had them any more frequently than occasionally. I feel like a camel some days. I can carry about six pounds of water by bedtime and have it be gone by morning–not making for sound sleep. I take a water pill that seems to help with this, but yesterday evening one of my feet was like a balloon. (Can you have lymphedema if no lymph nodes were removed?) My blood pressure soars when I am upset, then settles back down to normal. But, when it’s soaring, my head pounds without pain, like when I’m sitting at a light beside a car that shakes the street with its bass notes. My joints seem to get better, then they go back to aching. Today it is my lower back that hurts. My fingernails recovered from chemotherapy months ago, but they are now back to peeling and there are little splashes of orange bubbles like when treatment was ended and my body was still recovering.
I think these are normal aches and pains, but the changes are things that bug me. It’s one thing to want to live to a ripe old age and another thing to do it. I wake up every day feeling so grateful for what has not happened to me that I push aside my complaints. But I find myself returning to the “woe-is-I” attitude from time-to-time. It’s like a torn nail that you cannot leave alone until you have torn it to the quick. Some bloggers talk about the “new normal.” Maybe I just need to accept that this is how it is now.
But today I realized that I am one of those people who cannot let go. I see dead people.
It does not take any particular skill. This afternoon I took a different path to school and passed the building where I worked in the 1990’s when a young coworker fell or jumped from the top of our office building. The description of his death as accidental was probably to ease his parents’ grief, but the building had several walls or barriers around the roof. He had to climb over several of them to fall. He was feeling overextended and tired from too much work. That happens to young professionals in large law firms. I feel tremendous sadness when I think of him because he had confided in me his distress and I had encouraged him to see the practice group leader and get help. Like many young professionals, he received a message that he should hang in there. That evening was when he fell. Someone said he was unrecognizable as a lawyer from our building when discovered on the street below. The suit did not distinguish him. Someone thought one of the city’s homeless men had been struck by a car.
When I see his face, it is in memories. But I recall boyish charm. He was a prodigy of sorts. He graduated from college and law school early. To this day I remember how he looked at a picture of The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/sistine-chapel-ceiling-opens-to-public. I had been there recently and had shown off my travel photos to persons too kind to escape. This colleague saw God and Adam with arms outstretched toward each other and wondered aloud about the space between them. As I recall it, he wondered what it would be like to see them after that touch. He thought Adam would be transformed, unrecognizable. He thought the artist painted what was safe–a man–not one touched by God. I am haunted by those recollections as surely as if his spirit appeared to me. And I wonder what he felt when he touched the hand of God.
I think about my friend from Washington, DC who suddenly got it in her head to move to Tennessee to live near her mom and a sister. My friend had a young son and an ex-husband doing a little time for what I cannot recall. Once she decided to move she was hell bent on getting there as fast as possible. But she had no money or plan for doing it. I sent her a book by overnight express and stuck six one hundred dollar bills in between the pages. She barely made it home in time. Within a month, she had died of an aneurysm in her brain. She saw her son off to school and told her mom she was going to lie down for a nap because her head hurt. Her mom found her several hours later. They said she must have seen it coming because she had gotten up in church on Sunday and declared her faith in Jesus. I think she knew something. We spoke just days before she died about the money I sent her. She was very grateful and wanted to repay me but worried that it would take awhile. I “forgave” the debt because it seemed to bother her, and I was happy that she seemed happy when I said it–almost like her house was in order.
There was nothing funny about her death at such a young age, but I think of her every time I see Elvis because the preacher at her funeral (which had enough drama for the stage and deserves its own posting) remarked that, thanks to her having declared her faith before death, she was already in heaven. And that meant that she had seen the King–yes, Elvis. The preacher mentioned God softly, almost as a footnote, “Jesus, too.”
I think I see the first boy I ever loved when I drive down the street on which we lived way back when. His name was Michael and he was very sweet. We played as part of a neighborhood group, usually in people’s garages because the housing development was brand new and no one had shade trees yet. In our garage we had a cardboard kitchen set, which was “home.” Michael and I were the oldest, so we played the mom and dad. Like lots of kids, we brought to play what we saw at home. My mom muffled laughter one afternoon when Michael stomped into the garage and yelled at me, “Burnt mashed potatoes again! When a man comes home he needs fluffy potatoes on the table!” Talk like that in our house would have meant noodles until November.
Michael died in a motel room in what appears to have been a drug bust that went bad. By that time I lived far away and was no longer in touch with him or his family. But I still see him winding up with his bat when his dad was getting ready to pitch the ball. And he still looks way too young to be so long gone.
Some of the dead people I see are ghosts, too, but I can only lay claim to seeing a very few of them. They were strangers to me so I could not possibly tell you their stories. I can only tell you that when I think back on my life so far I keep wondering about what that young lawyer said about the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Did Michelangelo paint the scene before Adam touched the hand of God because it is impossible to imagine the scene after the contact? I have the feeling that once Adam touched the Lord he never looked back.
That’s the normal I want to find here on earth. I’m living in that space between Adam’s finger and God’s. Not giving up. Not ready to go. Not quite feeling that my time has run out too soon. I want the sense of mystery and adventure back. I don’t want to malinger when there’s work to be done. And I do believe there is work to be done with this time I have here. So, instead of looking back at people gone–including my pre-cancer self–I’m looking forward, one hand extended, hoping when I do find Him (maybe even before I find Him) that I will be transformed.