by Anniel 10/9/16
Our youngest daughter, Cate, was in the early stages of the chronic illness that has been her life. She and I were at the UCSF hospital on Parnassus Heights and she was scheduled for a body scan following the installation of a shunt in the right ventricle of her brain. We knew she was the first patient of the day and were waiting in a small sunny room for her to be called for the procedure. In the room with us were a black man and his young teen-aged daughter. Both appeared to be sleeping and seemed to have been waiting for some time.
The sunlight in the room was very bright, revealing the symptoms of Cate’s illness and pain very clearly. I was beginning to understand that there was no “cure” for her condition, and was trying to maintain an up-beat attitude through the despair I felt. I looked at my daughter and thought I could not let her see me in such a state, so I kept smiling – until she left for the scan.
My head dropped and I choked back tears, lost in my own agony. Then I felt someone kneeling in front of me, and tender arms around me. It was the man who had seemed to be sleeping, and his beautiful daughter was standing by his side smiling sweetly at me.
The man began speaking, “Whatever happens, your daughter is in the hands of God, who loves her more than you do. It doesn’t matter at all. His only thought is what is best for her. You really know that.”
Of course I knew that, I had forgotten for awhile, but now His words reached into that doubting part of me.
Did you know that an Angel is a Messenger from God? Now my Messenger held me while I wept.
The Messenger’s Story
When I calmed down the Messenger told me his story. He was a Christian from Senegal and had lived in California for many years. He drove a cab in SanFrancisco and had some older sons. His 14-year-old daughter was the only girl in the family, and obviously the light of his life. She seemed fine and had gone to the doctor for a Sport’s Physical just two days before our meeting. The doctor found a tumor in her neck and she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Her whole-body scan was the first step in determining her treatment.
She and her father never stopped caressing and holding me while we spoke. For some reason it was only when they were called back for her scan that I asked her father for his name. He stopped at the door, flashed a big smile, and said, “My name is Cosmos.”
Imagine that, an Angel named Cosmos.
My Call Back to Life
It wasn’t until Cate and I went to Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago that I was able to begin putting Cosmos’ recall to faith into action. The best thing that happened was to stay at the Ronald McDonald House, which is one charity I wholeheartedly support. We met people from all over the world and shared their pain and sorrow.
I know that many folks are in need of care and comfort. We may be the only ones who can recognize and meet that need.
And one day I decided to write a Sonnet of thanks for my Messenger, Cosmos. It chanced that one sonnet was not enough, nor was two, or three. Finally I decided to really learn the form of poetry known as a Sonnet to see how I might tie my work together. Little did I know where that would take me. In spite of length, I wish to share that journey with you. Someday your need may be as great as ours was, and still is.
A sonnet is a poem of set structure. It is written in iambic pentameter, which means that each line is ten syllables long, with unstressed and stressed syllables. It’s difficult sometimes to figure how to put the proper stress on the right beat. For instance:
How DO I (unstressed) LOVE thee, LET me COUNT the WAYS,
Thank you, Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
A sonnet is 14 lines long, and the type of sonnet depends on the rhyme scheme. The typical English sonnet’s rhyme scheme is abba abba cde cde.
The first two sestets set the stage, or propose a problem or emotion. Then there should be what is called a Volta, or a “turning”, somewhere around line 9, that solves the problem or thought. Sonnets can vary somewhat in where the Volta occurs.
For some reason that I don’t remember now, I decided to use a Spenserian sonnet form, which has a rhyme scheme of abab bcbc cdcd ee. The ending two e’s become more distinctive in some ways than would otherwise be the case. Designing a sonnet around that form was dicey sometimes.
A Sonnet Corona
A Sonnet Corona is seven sonnets, in which the last line of each sonnet becomes the first line of the next, and the last line of the seventh goes back and becomes the first line of the first sonnet. Confusing? It’s kind of like a puzzle because the writer still has to be writing from a point of view that remains coherent through every sonnet.
By the way, one does not stop reading or speaking at the end of every line. Follow grammatical markings, you may breath where periods occur. Poetry and other writings make more sense that way.
Just so you know, you can write Double Coronas or even triple if you are feeling your poetic Cheerios. Now for my Corona.
The Messenger Sonnet Corona I-VII
You kneel, and take my hands into your own,
While I, puzzled and lost, must hold to trust
Of your intent until your soul is known.
For strength is gone and hope is but a crust
That yet remains to me on paths of dust.
Still I must find my way through inner pain
To where my mind is calm, without a gust
Of faithlessness ’til I can see again
And all my lost and shredded hopes regain.
Please, help me find the kinds of truth with which
My heart must deal. Sing out your glad refrain
Of His abiding love in perfect pitch.
Your hands are firm, your spirit clear and free –
Oh wondrous thing, God’s messenger to me.
Oh wondrous thing, God’s messenger to me
Has come – though all of grief and hell combine
Against my child, whose suffering I see.
I do not know you, but your heart knows mine,
And now we meet as by a firm design
Agreed in ages gone. Our children are –
In life or death – the strands that we entwine.
My passage now will carry me afar,
Still through the loneliness and wounds that scar.
Your love has led to wisdom’s boundless life,
And now you choose to teach me not to mar
The health and joy still possible in strife.
As you reach out and share in cleansing tears,
Here my resurgent hold on faith appears.
Here my resurgent hold on faith appears
Where acolytes of medicine hold sway;
And they will claim our lives for weary years
While answers seem so few and far away,
And every gain will have a loss to pay.
Oh, we have met some docs without a trace
Of kindness or of care. Who every day
Rebuffed our words as ones without the grace
Of truth, and sent us lonely out to brace
Discouragement; while we have only pled
For information given to replace
The agony of ignorance we’ve led.
It’s probable our prayers for mercy sought,
With healing balm your tender comfort wrought.
With healing balm your tender comfort wrought
A change in us. You stretched your hands to those
With courage shrunk, who had not yet been taught
The means of grace; whose smiles were but a pose
To hide behind when questioners arose.
Daily we learn to sing with thankful psalms
Despite the groping blindness of our woes.
Your words to us were healing balms
As agonized we cried for beggars’ alms.
Our souls were bare with nothing left to lose
But life, and no man there the tempest calms
As options shrink to things we would not choose.
Since you enlarged our spirits’ outward sight,
All we can do is testify of light.
All we can do is testify of light
To those who walk the same bleak path as we.
Whose days become the leper’s unclean plight
From whom all men of health still turn and flee.
Their suffering is dumb without a plea
That others others hear, while others’ eyes avert
In shame for what they do not wish to see.
The hearts of men with judgments harsh assert
That illness still must be a just dessert
And punishment for sin. While we who tread
The rack of pain must always be alert
To sing in tune and never break the thread
Of what you sang with knowledge from above:
Your song was one of unrelenting love.
Your song was one of unrelenting love,
For God doth nothing save it be for good.
His children here can test His words to prove
They verify His care and Fatherhood.
Fear of the Lord is only understood
As we begin to feel His amity
When faith grows weak; when brokenly we brood
On hurts and loss with great intensity:
Then only penitence brings clarity
Of Him who intercedes with pure intent
To treat us well in boundless charity.
This is the truth of what His love has meant.
Fear of the Lord will lead to wisdom’s grace
As we return to Him and truth embrace.
As we return to Him and truth embrace,
We thank Him for our patient lessons learned,
And for the love that we have found in place
When need arose. For all those who have yearned
For good to come; whose daily prayers have turned
To God on our behalf. A company
Of fellow-sufferers our love has earned.
Some we have met are an epiphany
Of brightness, and of perfect harmony.
Because their pain is lived in innocence,
Their very lives become a symphony
Of what you sang in loving reverence.
In memory where you are mine on loan,
You kneel, and take my hands into your own.
May and June, 2008
Written at Comer Children’s Hospital, Chicago while Cate was ill following IV Immunoglobulin (IVIG) treatment, which turned out not to be a good thing for her.
Sharing the Message
It was several months before Cate found her treatment at UCSF was not good and the shunt installed in her brain ventricle was behind-the-times. We met very few other patients on any kind of friendship basis, and none with IH. Cate was only 16 years old, but, unknown to either her father or me, she began to suspect that more was wrong with her than just intracranial hypertension (IH), (or pseudo tumor celebrii, PTC, its old name) and began a search to find a neurosurgeon with the background she needed.
We returned to Alaska with a very ill child. She had enrolled at the University of Alaska and set up an account with their on-line professional library, including the Medical Library, and began a serious in-depth study
of her condition. She wrote to Neurosurgeons all over the nation and sent some of them copies of her medical records for opinions and recommendations.
I was shocked when she told us that not only did she have an appointment with the Chief of Neurosurgery at the University of Chicago, but she had also arranged for us to stay at Ronald McDonald House there. This is the place where it became possible to meet other parents of children with IH, and other devastating illnesses. Because of Cosmos and his message, I began looking outside of myself and thinking more about other people.
I must tell you that it is not always easy to tell who can deal with a child’s illness and who cannot. Bear reminded me last night of a couple who came to stay at the house. Their only son had a brain tumor, and the husband was distressed and bewildered, and his wife was so angry she would speak to no one.
One night the husband came downstairs and asked if he could sit with us. His name was David and he and his wife were both teachers. As he told us, “We do everything right at our home. We are responsible, recycle, work to save the earth, save for our son so he has everything, and now this. We’re not like the rest of you, I mean we’re even strict vegans.”
I don’t think he even knew how insulting he sounded. The “rest of us” were evidently inferior beings and our children didn’t count.
The next morning David came to our table to say goodbye and said they would be back in a few days for an oncology clinic appointment. His wife stormed in to get him, angrily folded her arms and began tapping her toe.
Trying to be helpful I said, “Be sure to bring a book to clinic with you. You may have a wait.”
She glared at me and snarled, “We have an appointment, thank you very much. If you don’t make one, that’s not my problem. David, we’re leaving. Now.” I have wondered how their marriage fared under such strain, and if their son lived. But I never saw them again.
Then there were the people who became family, those we grew to respect and love. Bear was not always with us. He was still working, so I was the one who tried to remember Cosmos and his kindness.
I wrote an ST article called, “Good, Better, Best,” about the young Hindu couple, Dipte and Aneel, (1/31/15) and the service rendered to them while their child was dying by my friend Karen. In order to complete the core that runs through “Messenger,” I think now I must tell you how the message of love has worked, the core of everything, including the Sonnet Corona.
Karen has six children, five daughters and one boy. She was divorced from the children’s father and they were adopted and reared by her and her husband, Michael. Like our Cate, three of the girls, and the only boy have IH and other conditions. To save her son’s life, Karen had finally decided to bring Matthew, to The University of Chicago.
Karen later told me that she had to charter a flight to Chicago, and as Matt was being loaded on the ambulance to take him to the airport, the police showed up with a warrant for her arrest on charges from the doctors in Atlanta that she was trying to kill her son by not accepting proper medical care for him. “Proper medical care” being only what they recommended, with no second opinions needed. The cops took one look at Matt, and realized he probably would die if they stopped him from getting to Chicago. So they backed off and let them go.
Once they got there, Matt was rushed to surgery to install a shunt and Karen would not leave his side, sleeping in his room, keeping it cold, and light and noise free 24 hours a day, and probably driving the nurses nuts. People with IH are incredibly sensitive to light, noise and heat.
She had probably been at the hospital for three weeks when one of the nurses came to me and asked me to talk some sense to her before she had a breakdown. I went to Matt’s room and invited Karen to have a sandwich in the cafeteria with me, and persuaded her that she needed to take care of her own needs before she really could help her son, and her daughter Kalani, who would be there shortly for her own shunt surgery.
Then I took Karen for a daily walk outside and she agreed to go out every day. She said she would not go stay at Ronald McDonald House, but finally relented and did so when Kalani got out of the hospital. A child cannot stay unattended at the House, so Michael quit work to help, and they split up who stayed where and with which child. Michael began working around the house, shoveling snow, gardening, mopping floors, making repairs, whatever needed doing he was there. He, too, became family and was a stalwart for everyone.
He became friends with Bear when he was able to be there. Bear loved to tease him about his NASCAR addiction. “All you do is watch cars go round and round in circles.”
He even embarrassed Michael when he caught him sleeping while NASCAR was on TV. We all laughed because Michael was a person who could laugh at himself. Bear reminds me often that, while NASCAR is not for everyone, it certainly is right for a lot of good people and no skin off our noses.
One of the things that has long upset me is how the men are treated. Even at McDonald House they are kind of second-class citizens. They get to schlep the bags, do the laundry and other chores, and never, ever cry over their child.
Once, when Cate was home in Alaska, I knitted a scarf for Karen and was getting it ready to mail when Bear, bless him, asked me a simple question, “What are you doing for Michael?”
What was I doing for Michael indeed?
I knitted him a hat the same color as his bright blue eyes, and thereafter tried to remember all of the men at the house. Karen said Michael wore his hat every day, and had it on when he died suddenly of a heart attack. We helped where we could after Michael’s death, and when Karen could cope again she told me that she slept with his hat every night because it still smelled like him.
She bought a small run-down house in the outskirts of Atlanta and began remodeling it for her children. From time to time Bear and I often felt a pull when we knew she needed funds, and helped when we felt her need. Which leads to one last Karen story. One day during a class in church a voice very clearly said to me, “Karen needs $49.95.”
I was shocked, and most irreverently, I silently said, “What do you mean,
$49.95? Why not an even $50.00?”
“That’s OK, but what she NEEDS is $49.95.”
The next day we sent her $50.00 by express mail. She called crying in a few days and told me that she was building a fence around her home. She went into the house for lunch and someone stole her power saw from the yard. She had no money for a new one and was killing her back by ripping her lumber with a hand saw. She took the $50.00 we sent and found the new saw she needed on sale at Sears for $49.95. She put the nickel in her grandson’s piggy bank.
I don’t know how those things work, but they do.
When I wrote Messenger I wanted so much to convey what Cosmos helped me with: What he taught me is the faith that everything God does is for the good of the person involved. I know with every breath I take that his message is true.
Would I write a Sonnet Corona again? Would I even write a sonnet again? I’m not sure I would, and yet it kept me going during a very bad time. One benefit I can see from writing the beginning, with the ending in mind, is that it must remain coherent as it circles through each sonnet and returns to the beginning. I want to say that it keeps you honest and on your toes. You MUST stay focused all the way through, in spite of interruptions and turmoil.
I was surprised how the music theme went through all the sonnets. I’m not at all certain where that came from. It just seemed to crescendo.
I knew from the beginning what I wanted the last two lines to be:
“In memory where you are mine alone,
You kneel, and take my hands into your own.”
But I had another choice:
“In memory where you are mine on loan,
You kneel, and take my hands into your own.”
I went back and forth between the two, but decided that I am now sharing a story about an angel, a messenger, with ripples that fan out and now he CANNOT be mine alone. He belongs to anyone who wants the message of love he brought.
I am glad now that I do not know where or how Cosmos and his angel child are. Memory serves me better, I think.
Just as a thought, maybe someone would like to try a limerick corona. It could be just a few limericks long, and maybe it might be a lot of fun. Who knows what you might learn?