September 13

Blessed are the Wounded

I learned today that Charlie Petersen died suddenly and unexpectedly this weekend. I met Charlie online when she was part of an online mystery quilt event we did with American Quilters Society and later in person when we were teaching on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Our first encounter was amid a number of people in a chat room were expressing anxiety about having to sew curves. Charlie posted a wonderful picture of her progress with the curves and said how she hadn’t had too much trouble with them. And then in a classic mike-drop moment added, “Oh, and by the way, I’m missing all of the fingers on my right hand.” I remember reading that and gasping, “Whoa!” to Bill in the office. So I was delighted to meet her in person and follow her on Facebook after she friended me. Charlie had lost her fingers in an accident earlier in her life but it hadn’t stopped her from making show-worthy quilts and being a good friend to others.

I also saw a larger-than-life friend this weekend who is being treated for breast cancer. On a day that this woman was getting her first round of chemo, she did more than most people do with optimal health. Like me, she’s had a lifetime of health issues and yet, they are mere speedbumps that slow her down to the speed of mere mortals. When I expressed concern about her health she looked at me and said sympathetically, “You’ve had a pretty rough year yourself, haven’t you?” I saw the sincerity in her eyes and I hope she saw it in mine.

Bill and I were married in a church in which several members of the congregation were recovering alcoholics or had experienced deep loss. At the time we were caring full-time for my late mother-in-law was suffering from a degenerative illness. I commented to our priest, who was also a physician, about how everyone there seemed so genuine and caring. He said, “Some of the most beautiful examples of humanity I’ve ever seen have been in the NICU (neo-natal intensive care unit of a hospital). These people know that their feet are made of clay. They know what you’re up against. They get it.”

The gift of loss and suffering is that you can look into the eyes of others who have experienced loss or are suffering and they know what’s in your heart. It’s not that anyone ever knows what to say in these situations, but it’s more the gaze that’s held just a bit longer or the squeeze of a hand. Obviously, I don’t wish loss or suffering on anyone. But for those of us who have had more than a few knocks, we’re not scared off by your illness or tragedy. We’ll be there to hold your hand because we remember the people who were strong enough to hold ours.