It seemed that all the world were in black and white with accents of red from city signs and the brake lights of cars, when we left St Vincent’s in the pouring rain. Sam had hobbled from the car to the surgery and was worn out by the time we were ready for pharmacy. I left her at the clinic café and took the undercover shortcut from the clinic through the private hospital to the public hospital, past oncology then downstairs to pharmacy.
I’ve taken this route alone so many times, usually with my thoughts racing, my heart pounding yet I find myself feeling grateful for the artwork that hangs on the hospital walls. The corridors of the three medical centres are like a gallery of ever changing art and I swell with joy at the beauty of it all. I tell myself how good it is to be at St Vincent’s where the hallways are carpeted and the rest benches covered in modern upholstery.
I love the oil paintings of the various nuns, doctors and nurses that have served in the hospital over the years, the plaques that commemorate great lives. I love the stained glass window of Jesus that marks the entry to the public side. Somehow I sense God in this place, the tangible power of His breath lifting me as I walk and in the moment He is beneath me bearing me up on eagles wings.
As I pass His portrait set in glass I enter the new display, one of charcoal drawings. Dashing past I admire the spines of books, a pocket watch and a bird’s nest. I don’t stop to take in the details of the images, there is not time but I see them all the same, a tiny taste of what the artist saw as she sat to sketch her still life. Arriving at oncology the old familiar photography art hangs. Images on a backdrop of cloudy blue sky, one of a cow, one of angels’ wings, and a statue I recognise from outside. It is random art, as random as this journey. A cow does not belong in the sky any more than my daughter belongs alone in the café and if I were to do art I may portray something as meaningless yet meaningful.
When I arrived back at the café Sam was talking to an elderly couple that had joined her at the table. They had struck up conversation and Sam was graciously filling them in on her experiences with cancer, a bone marrow transplant and the aftermath of it all. They in turn were sharing their story and somehow the tenderness of it all made my eyes glaze over with tears. I helped Sam up and asked her if she was okay. She hates telling her story but somehow it had been okay, somehow there exists a common bond with hospital folk no matter their age.
It was almost dark as we stepped outside into the rain, I was melancholy until Sam expressed “Oh, I love the city when it rains,” in unexpected delight and I laughed out loud wanting to hug her for being so brave. The rain drizzled on the windscreen all the way home and the wipers began to sing mockingly at me to the rhythm of their intermittent dance. “Two steps forward, one step back, two steps forward one step back,” they sang and I thought about the prednisone that we need to double again, of her flared up liver, of her infected ears, of her bruised knees and sore toe.
I fell asleep early that night only to wake again at 2am. I sensed God calling me to rise with Him, to waltz with Him, to converse with Him and I allowed Him to sweep me up in His arms. I placed my head on His shoulder, I cried and then laughed, throwing back my head, reminding Him that I do not know how to dance. “But I do,” he told me, “and the man is supposed to lead.” As we waltzed together He talked with me and we reflected together on the joy of Sam and Emma’s childhood.
We talked of their love for ballet and laughed at poor Jack who got dragged along for drop offs and pickups, all the hours he spent jumping puddles in the car park waiting for dance classes to end.
Remember the ‘unseen enchaînement’s?’ He asked me. Yes, I remembered those open ballet classes that my daughters dreaded as much as they begged to attend. The instructions for steps were given in French; combinations of movements not seen before and when mastered a beautiful fluid sequence formed a lyrical dance. These classes completely intimidated them and they would find a place at the back behind a better dancer, out of view of the teacher who may explode if they got the steps wrong. Yet they loved the challenge it offered them to expand their repertoire of dance.
The word ‘enchain’ also means to bind with chains, to hold fast or captivate. On most days this is how the road to recovery feels. We are captured and chained yet we hold fast to God’s promises. He holds us in His arms. He leads us in the dance. These are steps we’ve never seen before, spoken in a language we do not understand but He is faithful as we focus on Him.
“Call to Me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things, fenced in and hidden, which you do not know.” ( Jeremiah 33:3) It is God that gives me the discernment to ask for swabs to be taken from her ears, to insist that the secretary puts my call through to the specialist, that drags Sam into hospital insisting on more tests, more information, more attention to detail. I lie in my bed awake seeking God for answers, calling His name and asking to be shown the things that I could never understand.
When He comes He reminds me that He is listening, is always watching, bringing to my remembrance things He could only know. It’s a beautiful evening for dancing and when we are done He leads me back down the hallways for a closer look at the black and white charcoal sketches. He reminds me the answers are in His book, in His time and He brings new life. He shows me that we are working together just like in art and I am discovering that ‘art is collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.’ Andre Gide