Tuesday, January 29, 2008

It's been over a month since I last posted--a very life-changing month at that. I am in a new house, finding my way into this new phase of my world. But this post is not about me. This post is about Patry.

I first met Patry Francis on Readerville several years ago. I was always happy to see her postings--her voice was invariably fresh and funny and full of compassion. I would often dip into her blog, Simply Wait to follow the chronicles of her life as a writer and banquet waiter, and lose myself inside her beautiful words. The whole community celebrated when she sold her first novel, The Liar's Diary. Now, as the book is released in paperback, the community is coming together again.

Over 300 writers and readers are blogging for Patry today, helping her promote her gorgeous book as she recovers from cancer surgery. To learn how this day came about, read Susan Henderson's post here. I am so pleased to be part of this convergence. I continue to read Patry's blog, and am so moved by the strength and grace and wisdom (and humor) she embodies during her illness. In the hospital, they ask her to rate her pain, and she wonders why they don't ask her to rate her bliss (so she does it anyway--and there is much, even in the middle of the dark times.) Her words have helped me through my own time of transition.
"Simply waiting" in the Cancer Center wasn't easy. The fifteen or twenty people who sat in chairs along the periphery all looked scared and tense. No one spoke. Furtively, I checked out them out, wondering what form of the disease they had, what their prognoses might be. Were they among the statistical numbers who would beat the disease? Was I?

The first day I visited, most of the patients were a generation older than I was. What was I doing there? I wondered. It wasn't fair. Then I spotted a woman who appeared to be about the age of my oldest son. Damn. Cancer WASN'T fair. It wasn't democratic. It just was. I looked down and pretended to read People magazine.

This time, however, Nicola and I had eight month old Hank with us. How would an active, squirmy baby ever endure the kind of wait that drove adults to distraction? But it turned out that Hank found the spacious waiting room perfect for exploring on hands and knees, the coffee tables just the right height to walk around, and the seats filled with people he was eager to meet.

He started with those closest to us, and then, slowly (followed by his mum, of course) he extended his reach to everyone in the waiting room, transforming the atmosphere as he crawled around, babbling and smiling.

Strangers smiled back and called to him, "Over here, buddy." When he toppled over, people leaped up to make sure he was all right. Suddenly, Nicola and I weren't the only ones watching to make sure he didn't put anything in his mouth. Everyone in the room had his back.

Soon people were sharing stories about their children and grandchildren. When someone said that babies who don't crawl before they walk often have developmental delays later, a vigorous debate broke out.

Eventually, the conversation expanded. People discussed how far they'd traveled to get there, and worried that they'd get on the road before rush hour. A couple of men started to talk about sports.

We stopped being a bunch of solitary, anxious cancer patients, and became a room full of human beings. I forgot to think about how many patients had come in after me and heard their names called before me, or to look at my watch. What remained was the goodwill in that room, the outstretched hands, and the encouraging words to Hank when he took a couple of tentative steps between table and chair.

"Look! You're doing great. You can do it!"

On the way home, exhausted, but strangely elated, I wondered why it took a baby to release us from our fear and reveal our common humanity....

And why it took a life-threatening illness to make me realize that nothing is promised to me or to anyone else--not a single breath--that it's all a gift and I'd better savor every bit of it--even the missed exits, and the unexpected detours.
You are a gift, Patry. May you make a swift and complete recovery and may we be blessed with much more of your beautiful writing.