Every now and then, I have need of a visit to the hospital to shore up my crazy lupus. In the course of my many visits, word got out that I was a pastor, albeit a slightly unusual one. And before I could snap my fingers, I had a whole new hospital congregation made up of the sick, the dying, the pissed off, the too-old-to-care and the staff who tended to them.
It was almost six weeks ago that I was pulled aside by a nurse. “Paul’s asked to meet you. He just wants to say hi, I think. You smiled at him in the hallway the other day.” So she led me to room 1317 and pushed open the heavy hospital door, using her body to move it quietly and reverently, the way one enters a temple .
Paul was reclining half upright on the bed with his eyes closed, a well-built man with a head full of curly white hair. An open book rested pages-down against his chest. He had the creased look of a dying man. And he was. Paul was dying of brain cancer.
He opened his eyes and stared at me for what turned into an uncomfortable amount of time. But, when he finally spoke, how that voice sparkled! He wanted to meet me, he said, because when he saw me in the hallway that day, he was sure he’d seen a ghost.
“A good ghost?”
“The ghost of a love long gone.” He smiled at me almost apologetically. Paul and I became friends on the spot–right there, no questions asked. That’s the way it happens with kindred spirits.
Her name was Julia and she was a gypsy of a woman. Passionate, intelligent, fierce—with a mane of red hair that would shame the sun. She was an artist and a dancer. They’d met in the fifties, through a mutual friend, shortly after he returned from the war. The connection was evident from the beginning, full of fire and aliveness; but he shied away from letting himself imagine a future where Julia had some role to play. Whatever was going on between them didn’t fit into the conventional box he’d been told was right, safe, good, responsible. He was moving away for work within the year and that would be that. So three seasons worth of magical walks through the park, some beautiful nights together with long conversations that lasted into the small hours of the morning, and countless “accidental” meetings just to get a glimpse of her and then he left. Moved to Chicago, lived the responsible – i.e. expected – life and married his first wife, a kind woman he admits he loved but wasn’t in love with. And every single day he thought of Julia. He told me that I’d reminded him of her — the way I walked, the way I dressed, the way I laughed too loudly in the hallway.
To sit with him, even just for a little while and be the hologram of a woman for whom he grieves the loss is one of the great joys of my life these days. Paul feels some kind of absolution in telling me all of the things he never told her. No doubt, this is some kind of divine appointment to let him prepare for death and to teach me how to live.
Paul has coaxed me to say something out loud: life is too short to not be reckless for the things that matter. Be reckless about love, about compassion, about beauty, about opposing injustice, about the unexplainable miracle of a kindred spirit. This is such a cliche in some ways that I can’t even read my own words without seeing them on a bumper sticker or penned onto a coffee mug.
But I get it.
Recklessness is frowned on in our culture–at least, where it would count. We’ll be reckless with sex, money, our bodies, our planet; but not with our time, our passion, our own innate divine nature.
Most days I kind of suck at it, actually. Recklessness, I mean. I like knowing people approve of my decisions as being moral, good, smart, responsible. Despite all my gypsy sensibilities, a semi-predictable outcome is still the “right” way. And let’s face it, I don’t want to look like a fool and I bet you don’t either.
I’m chucking that notion from here on out. It’s no coincidence that the greatest commandment is love or that my greatest hero lived a life so reckless and so passionate, they killed him for it.
So reckless I shall be…with my dreaming, with my inspiration, with my love.
I asked Paul if he would have found a way to love Julia even if it would’ve required a foolish creativity to make it work, even if it wasn’t a sure thing. He just looked past me the way that memories do and smiled that Don Draper smile. “Oh doll, every man should be a fool for a love like that. A fool forgets that there’s anything to do but live.”
Preach it, Apostle Paul.
P.S. I love you, P. XOXO