Everyone who reads this diary knows that I’ve been nagging them to get a colonoscopy. We recently flew to Texas to make a last visit a friend who is dying from colon cancer. It was a sad trip, of course, and I tried to figure out what my role was supposed to be in this situation–what was my piece in this particular jigsaw? I assumed it was one thing, but it turned out to be quite another.

I remember when Whitley’s mother died, she asked only one thing of me: to find a home for the stray cat she had adopted. I was determined to do it, and it wasn’t easy–the friend who had initially agreed to take the cat backed out, because she already had too many cats in her house. A relative who lived in the country reluctantly agreed to take on the cat as an “outdoor” animal that would pal around with her large posse of other cats, but this didn’t seem to be a very satisfactory solution. But I was determined to honor this wish, so I persevered and finally found the cat a home with another relative. It’s now 20 years later and that cat is still alive, despite the fact that its owner now has to give it daily insulin injections. The man who adopted it was a lonely guy at the time–first his girlfriend, and then his wife, left him– but through it all, he had that cat to keep him company. Now that he has a nice new wife, I like to think that after all these years, the cat has done its job, so it can finally die in peace.

The goddaughter of our dying friend is kind of a stray cat. Her biological father has never had much time for her and her stepfather (her mother’s second husband) has been kind, but he basically gave his heart to his own daughter (who is our goddaughter’s younger sister). This means that the younger girl, while bereft, will still have a home with her dad after her mother dies, but our goddaughter will be left a kind of orphan.

I grew up as a motherless child, and I know how hard it is– nothing ever quite makes up for it. Although our goddaughter is a young woman now, she will still feel her loss keenly. I used to say that I could always spot someone who had lost their mother too young. Maybe it takes one to spot one: there’s something essentially lonely and needful about such people.

Since there was nothing we could do for our dying friend except say goodbye, and she had a large circle of friends and medical professionals there to help her, I thought that the main reason I was going there was to be with our goddaughter. But then I got a surprise.

We were contacted by the grief-stricken second ex-husband, who confessed that he was still desperately in love with our friend and always would be. Before her illness, they had begun to reconcile, and now he wanted some time alone with her, but our goddaughter was preventing him from doing this, out of concern for her mom. He begged us to arrange some private time for him to be alone with her to say goodbye, so we did. They were able to reconnect and complete the circle they had begun so many years before.

On the flight to Texas I looked out the window and was puzzled by what looked like strange patches of grayish algae on the ground below. Then I realized that these were shadows cast on the ground by the clouds high above.

In First Corinthians 13, Paul writes, “for now we look as if in a mirror, shrouded in mystery; but then we will see face to face. Now I partly discern, but then I will perceive the same way that I was perceived all along.” (This is from my favorite Bible translation: The Unvarnished New Testament by Andy Gaus)

On the way home, the weather was sunnier, so I didn’t see any shadows of clouds below us. I reflected on the idea that our lives are lived underneath cloud shadows, with us never seeing the big picture, only each small step before us. Occasionally we manage to catch a fleeting glimpse of what our role here may be, but then it quickly fades and we continue on our way again.

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