by Carole Duff
My friend Sarah says a relationship is like being at opposite ends of a bridge and meeting one another in the middle. If people do not wish to meet us in the middle of the bridge, we must accept their decisions and focus on the people we love who enjoy spending time with us. Sarah adds, “People who aren’t working on themselves, as I am, won’t like me.”
I met Sarah in 2002 when I took a new job and moved to Baltimore after my children graduated from high school and college in Texas. During the first weeks on the job until the house I had purchased was ready, I lived with Sarah, one of my new colleagues at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson. We became close friends. I enjoyed her family tradition of hospitality again during my last two years at NDP. Having remarried, sold my Baltimore house, and moved to my husband’s home in Virginia, I commuted and stayed overnight with Sarah.
She always had room for me in her home, the same welcoming home of her youth in rural Maryland. It’s an old farmhouse with open front porch and the words “Health, Heart, Hearth, Home” stenciled along the entrance walls and up the stairs to the bedrooms. I had many good sleeps in the cozy balcony room overlooking the tall trees in her front yard. Grandfather clocks ticked and chimed, scented candles flickered, and wood floors creaked comfortably under foot throughout the house. In addition to a main floor study and entrance hall, there’s a formal dining room and large country kitchen with family room furnished with cozy chairs, coffee table—for teacups, cookie plates, cross-word puzzles and magazines—and sofas with crocheted blankets for chilly evenings. Curled up on adjacent sofas, we had many good talks, especially about The Noontimes, Sarah’s daily, scripture-based faith reflections.
Then one evening, five years after she began writing the Noontimes and three months before I retired from NDP, Sarah’s sofa was empty.
Earlier that day, I’d subbed for a class across the hall from Sarah’s classroom and stopped by to say hello. She’d just sent out the Noontime message and was catching up on email while waiting for a student to come makeup a quiz. A few minutes after I left, a sudden headache blurred her vision; she couldn’t read the clock on the wall. Sarah thought she was having a stroke. Not wanting to upset her students, she prayed not to die in her classroom. When her student arrived, Sarah asked to go to the Nurse’s Office and told the nurse to call 911.
For the next few hours, all was swirling action. Blood flooded her skull, the bleeding out of control. The emergency room doctors couldn’t find the tear but knew the extent of the trauma meant death. While everyone at school prayed, her daughter signed release papers. Sarah heard her family’s upset, but in her head, she was on a rollercoaster ride—she hates rollercoasters. Strangely, someone else was in the car with her. She kept telling him, “I don’t want to live with this pain. I’m ready to go. I’m ok with that.” The answer always came back the same: “There is nothing to fear.”
The doctors never located the tear; it disappeared and the bleeding stopped. They said none of them had ever seen anything like this before. A miracle? Only later did Sarah realize that five years of intense prayer and Noontimes had trained the “God spot” in her brain so she could manage the pain from the aneurism.
After several weeks’ recovery under the watchful eyes of doctors, children and grandchildren, Sarah moved back home. She lit her scented candles and made Nana tea. We sat down to talk.
“Why do you think you survived, Sarah?” I asked.
“Oh, that’s easy. God has more for me to do and a message that I’m supposed to share: ‘There is nothing to fear.’” I leaned in to hear what else she had to say. “I know for certain that I am not alone. None of us is. And it is sad that we do not all understand and feel this. I also realize that walking in The Way does not guarantee physical, emotional, or spiritual comfort; rather it brings fulfillment and serenity. That is what I mostly feel, an immense contentment. The rest will unwind in God’s time and in God’s plan.”
“Ah,” I said, “even though we might not know, God is always with us and has use for us. Working on ourselves to walk in The Way and to discern God’s mission for us is a faith process. For me, facing retirement feels like I’m an inchworm coming to the end of a branch and reaching into open space for my next footing.”
“The back half can only go where the front half takes it, and the front half cannot outdistance the back,” Sarah said. “The two halves of our lives are connected. This is something we cannot change, and the inchworm seems to know this well.”
God willing, Sarah will retire someday, and I will abide with her as she inchworms into the next stage of life. Two friends, sisters, meeting in the middle of a bridge.
Per Gen regular contributor Carole Duff is a veteran teacher, flutist, and writer of narrative nonfiction. She posts weekly to her long-standing blog Notes from Vanaprastha, has written for The Perennial Gen, Streetlight Magazine’s Blog, and Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog. She is working on a book titled Wisdom Builds Her House: A Memoir About Finding Grace in the Third Stage of Life. Carole lives in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband Keith Kenny, also a writer, and three overly-friendly dogs. You can find her website here, and her Twitter feed here.
Carole, I’ll be chewing over Sarah’s “inchworm wisdom” for a long time to come, I think. Thank you for sharing this story.
Thank you, Rachel. May we all meet wise friends as we inch along our paths – and become those friends for others.