Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 256

I’m in the hospice program now. My oncologist at Hillman’s in Pittsburgh told me there is nothing more they can do for my uveal cancer. I’m still mobile and alert and show no classic cancer signs of “being in the process of dying.” But the stamina and energy are waning, and my skin cancer nodules have erupted all over my body, from head to toe. I count at least 60 bumps of various sizes, shapes and levels of density and texture. These, as far as I know, are not lethal, but they are irritating.

In a sense I feel like I’m already dead. Don’t get me wrong. People are very good to me. They visit me, bring me food and gifts, offer to do shopping and cooking, and many more kind acts. It’s remarkable how loved I feel. But I can’t do much lately except sit in one recliner after another, gulp a few pills at regular intervals, and stay the day. When I do manage to go to a community function or for a ride or a dinner, it’s not too pleasurable--lots of aches and pains. I played golf at our Annual Benedictine Sisters Golf Tournament a couple weeks ago, but only managed nine holes. I have to say, though, that was the best time and I kind of look at it as my last hurrah. I’m praying that I get a couple more holes in before the season ends, but if not, the tournament will indeed suffice. I am still able to work but wonder if I haven’t already overstayed the welcome.

I also feel that I make people a bit uncomfortable if they invite me out to a restaurant or play. For one thing, conversation is awkward. You can only do small talk so long and weather, clothes, and gossip are something I’ve never been much good at. If I engage in the latest episode of Mary Lou’s strange cancer that soon gets tiresome, perhaps even scary for the listener. Conversations about the future seem futile, though I plug on. That’s why I feel part of me is already buried somewhere. I don’t do what the living do or at least what I was accustomed to do as a member of the living. No doubt it’s a strange kind of living. Or not.

So, what do I do these days? One thing that has brought me immeasurable joy is that I have much more time now to stare out of windows. I’ve always taken a ribbing from my friends for the time I’ve devoted to window gazing. Now I have all the time in the world to indulge my favorite pastime. And what a gift I’ve been given. Every morning I pull open the shade of my living room window, a very large window that looks out into dozens of cosmos that line my patio in the backyard.

It would be enough to watch these pink, purple and white flowers sway in the breeze and be content for three or four hours. But this month four wild canaries have visited. And what these tiny golden finches do is play with the flowers. They flit in and out of the cosmos, singing a happy tune after munching on tiny seeds. They do it over and over. Every day. And I sit mesmerized, a smile on my face.

Brother David Steindl-Rast has written that “too easily we are inclined to imagine that God created this world for a purpose. We are so caught up in purpose that we would feel more comfortable if God shared our preoccupation with work. But God plays.” The example he uses of God’s playfulness is a single tree filled with a variety of birds. God, Brother David points out, did not attempt to make a creature that would perfectly achieve the purpose of a bird. What would that purpose be, he wonders? No, our God is a playful God and when God imagines bird, God pops-up woodpeckers and robins and hummingbirds and sparrows and crows, no bird made for any purpose except for God to indulge in playfulness.

So maybe that’s my final lesson. Maybe I still need to realize that purpose is illusive, that too much of life is preoccupied with “working for a purpose” and that at the end purpose can’t be grasped. Maybe my purposeless wild cosmos and canaries get it: We’re here for play, for wonder, for awe and mystery.

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A blog by Mary Lou Kownacki
A personal journal captures what’s in the heart. Most of my adult life I’ve recorded my notes, brief reflections, poems, reactions to daily events in a journal. It is an ongoing source of monastic formation; the rich and raw material of life that helps shape my Monastery of the Heart. About a year ago, Old Monk began to appear on my journal’s pages. Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, is the Monasteries of the Heart coordinator.

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