Happy Hopkins Eve

This being Baltimore, we’re celebrating Christmas Eve morning by gathering around the grave of Johns Hopkins. He’s buried in the expansive Greenmount Cemetery, which is now located in the so-called “Station North Arts District.” Doctors tell tales of great men and women and their muscle, bravado and intellect. We hear about Mary Elizabeth Garrett, whose grave is in eyeshot of Johnsy’s (I think of him that way). She was the daughter of a railroad magnate, and she made John Hopkins Hospital admit women to the medical school on a completely equal basis. When John Singer Sargent was commissioned to paint her portrait, he liked being in her presence as to a mouse being in the company of a boa constrictor. “A Woman of Quietly Realized Enthusiasms” reads her grave marker.

I’m not a doctor at these things, but I am a cancer patient, still. I was just in Johns Hopkins Medical Oncology a few days ago and I have a lot on my mind. I’m existing in a strange space where, for all intents and purposes, I’m out of treatment but the doctors still refer to the cancer in the present tense, whereas civilians tend to think of me as being “well.”  No one really knows for sure if I have cancer or not, but odds are that I do, so what can be done or not done to stop the cells from dividing and massing once again? My body and its functions have become completely unpredictable. I’m taking pills. I’m considering my options.

I place a coin on Hopkins’ grave and ask him only to think of me. A photographer from the Washington Post appears and snaps a photo of my daughter doing the same. I consider the vestiges of civilization, and how graves give people a place to gather and speak. Then we’re off to see where John Wilkes Booth is interred, and hear an impromptu lecture on him and the Booth family. Having touched the past and shaken hands with each other, we can now continue with our day. My doctor is going to call me the day after Christmas.

As with most things, the circles repeat, infinitely.

Mary Valle lives in Baltimore and is the author of Cancer Doesn't Give a Shit About Your Stupid Attitude: Reflections on Cancer and Catholicism. She blogs on KtB as The Communicant. For more Mary, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter.