This past Christmas, my sister Kay made me a gift I had requested: a small, decorated, clay-covered “prayer box” to hold the names of people for whom I’m praying.
Tonight, Kay’s name is in the box.
Over and over, I say the words “heart attack” to myself, trying, but not entirely succeeding, in making it seem real. Kay is younger than I. We just saw each other this past October. We laughed like hyenas over silly things as we always do, we posed for photos, we cooked, we went to Mass, we waved cheerful goodbyes at the end of the visit.
We may have arthritis and bad knees and need to lose some weight, we may be collecting Social Security while one of us is already on Medicare, but inside, in our heads, in the minds that guide our lives, we’re still 18. Life still amazes us, challenges us, even frightens us now and then. We still have plans to learn new things, to start new projects, to begin life-after-retirement careers. There are things we’re still learning about ourselves. Heart attacks aren’t part of our plans.
“We’re getting old!”our other sister wailed when she called to talk about Kay. “I don’t like it!”
We’re not really “old,” of course–although, when we were
teens, people in their 60s seemed ancient. But things like heart attacks and high cholesterol, stiff joints, fixed incomes and dietary restrictions are now part of our lexicon. It feels strange. It doesn’t seem normal. It isn’t who we are.
We’re Monica-Kay-Denise, the threesome who grew up on Park Street in Muskegon, Michigan, right next door to our grandmother, in the shadow of our dad’s bakery. We followed each other through St. Joseph School, and then Catholic Central. Adulthood scattered us across the country, but we stayed each other’s best friends. We pray for and with each other. We’re always in close touch. And, much to everyone else’s dismay, we still laugh ourselves into tears and wheezings at the slightest provocation whenever we get together. We even did it at my dad’s funeral, scandalizing everyone there, I’m sure.
Heart attacks have no place in our story. The grim reminder of mortality, the stark admission that some day one of us will go first, are things that belong in the land of someday, not lurking in our phone calls today, in the now, in the realm of possibility.
But–there’s that little prayer box. One thing we would all agree about is that the “realm of possibility” is always up to God. Kay’s name’s in the box, but her heart’s in his hands. All these years, it’s been a good place to be, and I don’t expect that to change.