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Long Weeks and Waiting

November 27, 2012

Short holiday weeks feel long, but in different ways. Weeks with a Monday holiday feel long by Wednesday, as if you’re trying to catch up whether you need to or not. Weeks like last week, with days off at the end of the week, don’t hit you until later. Like now. You have to wait for it.

And last week was very much about waiting, though it manifested in very different ways. I was waiting for three things: a response from the agent to my R & R, the birth of a friend’s first child, and the death of a friend I visited a few weeks back in Vancouver.

I’m still waiting for the agent.

Sheila was a writer, a giver of sage advice drawn from hard-earned wisdom, a bright light only dimmed at the very end by the cancer in her bones and brain. When I saw her last, she had to wade through the morphine to get her thoughts out to me, and I felt honored she believed me worth the effort. This wasn’t my first brush with someone awash in pain-killers at the end of life–my father died of cancer, and he too became dreamier and dreamier as the dosages rose–but with Sheila the conversation was less portentous. For one thing, a few weeks ago her prognosis wasn’t as immediately dark. The cancer surprised the doctors with its aggressive growth. Thus, for the most part, we simply chatted, though given our predilections it resembled My Dinner with Andre in a hospital room with a view of the North Shore Mountains.

She cut her way through the spiderweb of the drugs to chat with me.

I don’t attribute her effort solely to my own scintillating personality and conversational skills. I served as a de facto emissary for a number of other friends, members of the online Tolkien community she brightened. Circumstances conspired to allow me, but only me, to be there, so I served as a momentary linchpin for a much larger, more important connection between her and the dozens of people concerned. As I noted later, never before have I hugged on behalf of so many.

Then the moment passed, and her condition declined, and I got to wait with everyone else for the end, far away from her bedside. That end came on Thursday–Thanksgiving here. I was and am thankful for the chance to know Sheila.

The Margarita Inn, Evanston, Illinois, October 2008. I’m drinking the Mimosa, Sheila’s to my immediate right, her hand to her mouth. It appears she was suppressing a snicker, though she wasn’t the suppressing sort.

I was similarly distant when my other friend gave birth the next day, a week before her putative due date. Mom and daughter are home, fine, and all on that front seems to be progressing well. Maybe it was the sad news of the day preceding, but I felt unreasonably happy when the numbers came in: 6 pounds 11 ounces, 19 inches. Healthy.

Happy? Relieved. And happy. And something for which my word search remains ongoing: the notion of some sort of balance, howsoever fleeting, to a manifestly unbalanced world, colored by the fact that Sheila, too, looked forward to the first pictures of the new arrival.

This week, apart from the R & R, no waiting. Writing. A chapter (which circles around a death avoided) since Friday, more to come, on the Big SF/F novel. I need to produce. Not all deadlines are self-imposed.

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