Monday, April 30, 2018

The Kiss of Death, The Breath of Life

I'll admit that more than one episode of "Call the Midwife" has brought tears to my eyes. Last night's episode, however, struck a particularly poignant and sensitive chord.

Earlier in the day, I had sat down with my teenage daughter, Esther, to watch the concluding scenes of Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 classic film version of "Romeo and Juliet" -- the ones we hadn't been able to squeeze in the last time the kids were with me for the weekend. She's been studying the play in freshman English. Yesterday, we watched the "death scenes." I hadn't watched the movie for quite a while, and I was particularly moved by Romeo's adieu to Juliet, especially when he kisses his love--whom he believe dead--for the last time.

Last night, after taking the kids back to their mother's house, I sat down to watch "Call the Midwife" (a British show aired on PBS). It was a tragic episode, as one of the young midwives has contracted a deadly infection. We had watched this saintly character through several seasons as she meets, falls in love with and marries a young vicar. Both of their lives were dedicated to serving others. Yet, here she is, lying near death, then rallying, then ultimately succumbing to the illness. Her young husband is at her bedside, and I admit the tears flowed freely as I watched the beautifully acted scene of their last moments together and, after her last breath had escaped her lips, him reaching down and planting a tender last kiss, much as I had watched Romeo do earlier in the day to his Juliet.

As I watched this scene, I of course couldn't help but think of a similar one in my own life a little over two years ago, of watching the last breath pass over Mark's lips and then planting my own tender kiss on those lips. I understood as I watched another midwife who was like a mother to she who had just died sit and weep at the injustice of it all, how one so young could have been taken, how a love so young and vibrant could have been snuffed out, leaving the vicar alone.

I understood the tragedy, the pathos, the emptiness.

But, I also understood something else. As I felt all of these emotions swirl within me, I felt gratitude--gratitude that I, as a human being, was able to experience saying good-bye to someone I loved with my whole heart and soul, knowing that he felt the same about me. Grateful? Not to have said goodbye, for I wish with every fiber of my being that he hadn't contracted cancer, that he hadn't died, that our time together hadn't been so short. But gratitude for our love. Gratitude that I came so close to the ultimate fiber of life and felt it wrap itself around Mark and me. Gratitude that I was able to experience a love that made his parting so sweet, even though it was drenched in bitterness.

"I am alive," I wrote in my journal this morning. "I have lived. I have experienced profound loss. I have experienced the robbery of what was most precious to me in this life. I feel the pain still. I always will. But mixed with the pain is gratitude--profound gratitude--for what we had, what we experienced, what we meant to each other, for the breath of life that I felt hot and sweet upon my face."

The breath of life. Watching sunsets on Maui. Frolicking on the beach. Watching a fire ceremony together in a Buddhist temple high in the Japanese mountains. Cycling in the French Alps. Rafting down the Colorado with the kids. Swimming in the Aegean. Laughing, stoned, in an apartment in Amsterdam. Holding each other. Gazing into each other's eyes. Crying together. Laughing together. Alive. The breath of life. 

So as I watched those scenes last night, I thought, "I have lived that. I am ALIVE. If I die tomorrow, I have experienced true, transcendent love. I will have lived." And that's when I felt Mark near and saw him smile, knowingly ... lovingly. 

Postscript: This is a very personal post. I could have kept it private, in my journal. But sometimes, I just feel the need to say things out loud.

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