Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Visiting the Past

The lake at Pullen Park, in Raleigh
This past weekend we planned to travel home to visit my sisters and attend my nephew's birthday party. Just as we were leaving, however, I received word of a friend from high school. He has been fighting cancer for less than a year and, now we find the chemotherapy which cured it has left his lungs so damaged he has only a few days left on this earth. A miracle might occur to save him, and that is evidently what it will take, but those are in short supply these days.

This man first caught my notice when he was a freshman in high school and I a junior. He was in chorus with me and I wondered why he always wore a long black coat to school. This was answered when I began to see him riding his bicycle quite a long way to and from school in all kinds of weather. He needed his coat to fend off the pouring rain or beating sun or the rare instances of snow. I felt for his plight and offered to drive him home. At the time I drove my grandfather's Buick and I could fit my friend's bicycle in the trunk! As I ferried him around my friend confided his fear that he would soon end up homeless. He, as most children of the unbalanced do, realized his mother wasn't capable of sustaining both herself and a child. I don't know where his father was then, but I know he has now died. I assured my friend we would take him in if that happened, and I tried to watch out for him.

I was by no means the only person keeping watch. Our chorus teacher was instrumental in creating some stability for him, and my younger sister and her friend became very close to him. The day did indeed come when he found himself living in a car. I was away at university by that time, but my sister's friend asked her parents to take him in and they did. To this day, those two are like brother and sister and I know he considers her parents his own. They helped him find a job, bought him a car, and set up a bank account for him; in short, they gave him what he needed to succeed as an adult.

Eventually he met his lovely wife. I can remember us encouraging him to talk to her at parties, since it was obvious to everyone but himself  that she loved him. They were married and are even now much involved in their church. My friend has spent his adulthood praising God with his music, devoting himself to his wife, caring for his prodigal father as he was dying, and working hard; he is just as he ought to be. He is a husband, brother, son, and friend of whom anyone could be proud, and I am so proud of him. It is still hard for me think of him as a man, even though he's only two years younger than I. I always see that boy on the bicycle in the rain.

On Friday we arrived home to be greeted with the news that my sister didn't think our friend might live through the night. We rushed to see him. He was agitated and somewhat incoherent, but he was lucid enough to be happy to see us. We returned from the hospital just before midnight. He was worse the next morning, and then better. It was time for him to be transported to hospice. He has been in the hospital for three weeks, and his wife has been living there, so we spent most of Saturday packing their clothes and things and moving them to the new room in hospice. They are serene in their peace with God's will and submit to this turn of events. I am so angry I just want to smash something. I was able to walk with Cherre Saturday night and she told me God is supporting them right now because they are in the midst of all this, and that is how they can be at peace and not angry.

Driving to Raleigh on Friday, we traveled through a tropical storm. At one point we came upon an unearthly scene. Great dark clouds were bearing down on a stand of trees, with torrential rain obviously imminent. From some break in the clouds not visible to us the sun was shining with full force on the trees. In this strange, intense sunlight they stood super-delineated before the darkness, each leaf gilded along its edge in gold or chartreuse or lime. I thought to myself, this is how we all must live. We all stand before this onslaught; most of us just don't know when it will come until it hits us. It is our choice to stand up in the light and confront our fate, as my friend is now doing so very gracefully.

Sunday brought my nephew's party, which we could attend while many people from church arrived in town to assist our friend. This was held at Pullen Park, a historic park in Raleigh. It has a train and lake with paddle boats, and a carousel. It was the site of many a childhood school trip in my youth, and then a place I would take my young son to play. My sister's wedding photos were taken there. I stood watching the paddle boats traverse the placid lake, thinking you would never guess someone is dying in the next city. But of course, someone is always dying, and someone else always being born.

Before that we went to pick up some Chinese staples at the Asian grocery. The nearest to us here is 40 minutes away, so we aren't able to get these things easily. Besides dry goods, we picked up some dragonfruit and lychee. We shared these at my parent's so the dragonfruit are already gone. I will make fried rice tonight with the lychee. I am trying to replicate a dish I enjoyed at a Thai restaurant in Guangzhou, China. Guadong Province is renowned for the lychee grown there. When we arrived home yesterday afternoon I was in the mood to try to grow something. I need some new life amidst all this sickness. My daughter and I decided to try to get the dragonfruit and some mangoes we had to grow from seed.

Dragonfruit and mango seeds.
Dragonfruit is actually the fruit of a cactus, and it's supposed to be very easy to grow. The mangoes are trickier, I hear, but they make nice houseplants if you can root the seeds. We placed the entire mango pit, with some flesh still attached to feed the germinated plant and covered them with soil. If they both sprout then we will separate them and grow them in their own pots.

Mango seeds being planted.
The dragonfruit seeds are very tiny, like kiwi seeds. I made a fruit salad last night with pineapple, dragonfruit, blueberries, and mangos. I saved the dragonfruit peel with some seeded flesh still attached. We broke the peel into little bits and planted them as you see here. If most of them sprout we will have to thin them out and then pot them in individual pots. I will let you know how they grow. I am feeling the need to create some life just now.

Dragonfruit seeds being planted

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