The Desiccated Finger of Fate

I reported to the Johns Hopkins Outpatient Center yesterday for an appointment in the Avon Foundation Breast Center(!). The first thing I saw as I exited the parking structure was what I assume to be an Episcopalian priest in a dog collar. Then, while I waited in the waiting room, considering just how ugly the stained-glass pink ribbon-themed partition is, and how impossible it seems for industrial designers to design discomfort spaces that aren’t plug-ugly, a woman began chatting with me. And it was woe. Lots of woe. Lots of cancer, and lots of family members dropping dead from it. She told me that the only thing that’s getting her through it is God. I wanted to ask her why, if there is a God, are nice people like her suffering so much? What kind of Lordly jerk would do this to people? But I didn’t. I said I was sorry to hear about her family members… so many of us have been touched by this disease… I trailed off since I was about to get into “why?” territory.

She said she was glad I’m doing better, as if we knew each other. “You look good,” she said, almost as if she knew how bad I looked not a short time ago, but anyone might guess that, given where we were. “The only thing that’s getting me through all this is Him,” she said. “We are blessed.”

“I know I’m lucky,” I said.

“You enjoy every day you have, sweetheart, ’cause we are blessed.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I know I’m lucky.”

“No,” she said. “The world is lucky. You and I are blessed.” She made a motion like God was communicating to her through her fingertips. “We are blessed. Just believe in Jesus and enjoy every day,” she said. “That little girl needs you.”

Did I mention I have a daughter? I wasn’t sure. Had we met before? I didn’t know.

“We’re blessed,” she said. “The world is lucky. We’re—”

“Yes,” I said. “We are blessed.”

Later, as I walked out of the Airport of Doom, as I think of it, I reached into the pocket of my hospital bag for my parking ticket and pulled out a pamphlet with the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary on the front. Even though I know it’s mine, left over from long hours of treatment and logging some prayer time during those hours, I still felt a little spooked.

Somehow, I felt that Elizabeth Seton’s shriveled finger was pointing right at me. Or maybe it’s all just coincidence.

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.