Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Luckiest Person in the Universe

Looking at Doris, you'd probably feel sorry for her. She is curled up in ICU, a bony, 83-year-old woman with no teeth and a body shrunken and wracked with pain. She has been in and out of hospitals for the past ten years. She lives alone in a tiny apartment on social security ($850 per month). She has  no family, or rather only a sister she hasn't spoken to since 1971.

I came to know Doris when my wife had cancer and I became a caregiver for Doris as well as for my wife Kathleen. Doris was so frail, and Kathleen so robust, I never dreamed that Doris would outlive my wife. As I drove Doris to one doctor's appointment after another, we became friends.

She is a feisty and at times cantankerous woman. She has fired most of her care givers, and driven away many of her doctors and nurses. She has what is called an "anger management problem." But she and I have always been on good terms perhaps because she reminds me of my mother who was a stubborn Scot. Doris is a strong-minded Jew who has become a Quaker.

I have come to love Doris, and the feeling is mutual. When Doris was taken to ICU a couple of weeks ago, she started calling out, "I want my son Anthony.... I want my son Anthony...."

I was very moved, and honored. I realized that Doris has become my latest spiritual teacher, a gift from God (her name means "gift").

Doris loves life, and she loves people, and most of all, she loves to communicate. We have a lot in common!

Because of her lung condition--a form of emphysema--she has been on a respirator for the past two weeks and unable to communicate except by writing on a pad of paper.

Whenever the meds allowed her to be conscious, she would write furiously. Sometimes, when the meds were too strong, all she wrote were scribbles. But when her mind clears, her handwriting became large and bold. Her doctor joked, "Her handwriting is better than mine."

Doris laughed, and so did we. Doctors aren't known for their penmanship!

Doris and I have had many laughs as well as many deep and heart-felt conversations in writing. One day, she wrote in large, bold letters:


Her words floored me. How many of us would make that statement if we were in her situation--broke, sick, on the verge of death.

Doris sees things differently, however. She is alive, and to be alive is a miracle--a stroke of luck beyond winning any lottery. And she has friends. "I am rich in friends," she likes to say. And her best friends are Friends, that is, Quakers.

Doris also knows she is loved--by me, by Friends who have sent her cards and visited her in the hospital, and by the One who created and sustains us with boundless Love.

Doris knows she is loved. And she loves. And she is alive. What luck, what unbelievable luck!

Doris  knows she is the luckiest person in the universe.

I hope I never forget what Doris is teaching me. I, too, am the luckiest person in the universe, and for the same reason.

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