Friday, December 25, 2015 - Christmas Day

Advent 2015

"The Witness to Glory"

 

             Mamie was skin and bones.

             She drifted into the clinic like a ghost, white cane tapping the walls and the floor in a syncopated rhythm known but to her and to God. 

             Her appearance shocked me.

             I had known Mamie for years.  She lived just off Coffee Bluff Road, in a tiny wooden shack that was a relic from another time.  The house had been in her family for generations.  She kept it neat as a pin - white picket fence out front, window boxes studded with clumps of red geraniums.  Tomatoes and corn sprouted out back in summer; a gargantuan live oak in the front yard spread its craggy moss-draped branches overhead.  I would wave to her sometimes as I drove home, honking my horn as I whizzed past.  And Mamie would grin, waving her hand shovel overhead as the setting sun gleamed off the blade.

Diabetes had stolen her vision a few years back.  The ophthalmologists had tried to save it with lasers and medications; Mamie had resorted to fervent prayer.  But it was all for naught.  The disease was relentless.

And so Mamie went blind. 

Blindness did not stop her, however.  Mamie was resourceful.  She was faithful.  She had God on her side, and her church, and her family. 

"I took my granddaughter to Oatland Island last weekend to see the animals," she had said to me one day.

I was perplexed.

"How did you do that?  You're blind," I said.

She had chuckled at that, rolling her sightless eyes at me.

"I'm not blind," she said.  "I just can't see the same way you do."

"What do you mean?"

She took my hand in hers.  Her fingers were gnarled and arthritic; they felt like the roots of some ancient tree, twisting into some unseen dark place.

"Feel that?" she said.

"Your hands?" I asked.

"My life," she said.

"I don't understand."

She leaned in.  I could feel her breath on my neck.  She       whispered, quietly, as if imparting some great secret.

"All living things have an aura.  You can't see it - but you can feel it, if you try hard enough.  Life comes straight from God, you see.  He gives it to us - and he takes it back.  And that's the aura.  It's God's precious gift to each and every one of us."

She grinned.

"The aura is God's love in us, Doc.  And it's in every living thing.  That's my sight."

But that had been long ago, when the world was a younger place.  What I saw now was a mere shade of that person.  She was weak and painfully thin, almost two dimensional, in fact - a cardboard cutout of Miss Mamie, with indistinct edges and blurred lines.

I knew right then she was dying.

She sat down, clutching her white lace purse with two bony hands.  It was her "church purse," given to her by the congregation of the Nicholsonboro Baptist Church, where members of her family had been members for 165 years.

"Miss Mamie, what brings you in today?" I asked.

"Sickness," she said.  "Dr. Brown said I needed to come see you."

She handed me a CD.

"He said you needed to look at this.  Somethin' 'bout my pancreas."

I booted up the CD and looked over the CT images.

My heart sank.

The malignant tumor was wrapped tight around her aorta and vena cava.  It compressed her bile duct and duodenum, spreading recklessly to clumps of swollen lymph nodes that clustered about her distorted pancreas like bunches of rancid grapes.

"Mamie, you've got pancreatic cancer," I said to her.

"It's not good, is it, Doc?" she said.

"No, Mamie, it's not," I replied, taking her hands in mine.

"I knew," she said.  "I've known for a while now."

She stood up and hugged me.

"You've been good to me, Doc," she said.  "I'll miss you."

She tapped her cane along the wall as she headed for the exam room door.

"But we haven't even talked about your treatment options yet!" I said.

Miss Mamie turned to face me.  Her jaw was set firm.  There was a tear in one eye, but she defiantly brushed it away.

"I'm not havin' no surgery, and there ain't gonna be no

chemo," she said.  "I'm ready to meet the Lord if it's my time.  And if I'm to be healed, I'll be healed through faith."

"But Miss Mamie..."

She smiled gently at me, taking my hands in hers once more.

"Doc, listen.  I've had a good life.  I've not had much in the way of material wealth, but I've loved others and been loved.  I swam naked in the Vernon River when I was a young 'un, went to school to learn how to read and write, and met and married a nice, young man who treated me like I was a queen.  I birthed three little girls and saw them all grow up and marry fine, Christian men.  They've blessed me with four grands.  I've seen sunrises and sunsets, and I even went to New York City once and saw a play."

             She winked at me.

             "Doc, I ain't missed out on nothin'!" 

             She straightened her thin shoulders and nodded.

             "My people came from slaves.  Did you know that?  My ancestors arrived here from Africa in chains.  They worked plantations on St. Catherine's until after the Civil War, then came to Coffee Bluff.  And they survived."

Mamie stared off into forever, pausing a moment to wipe away another tear.

  "When I was a little girl, we'd fish and crab and grow corn and sweet potatoes to make ends meet.  Daddy would plow the back yard with a mule that we kept out back.  That old mule ran off one day; Mama thought somebody stole him.  And then my daddy died when I was thirteen.  Somebody shot him.  They never caught who done it.  I missed Daddy so much that I cried like a baby.  But my mama bore me up.  She was tending the fireplace when she heard me sobbin' and she hollered at me, hollered real loud.

"'Chile, come heah,' she said. 

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