4 October 1999

"You will not fear the terror of the night
      nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the plague that prowls in the darknes
nor the scourge that lays waste at noon."

Psalm 90 sung Gregorian by the monks at compline

Gethsemani and home

Out the corner of my eye
Cassiopeia looms light in the moonless sky.

I count our moons since beneath its fullsome face
we sealed here our kisses with engagement.

Now, though the fire tower
with its missing and riskier steps, is long dismantled,
a brown and brassy hawk steps off another height
to hover still, as then, in the wind.

Ancient reeds which rustled once when this was shore
turn up again as though in endless supply,
in fractured perfect rings, fossils at my feet.
Without a second thought, in decision ever so easily made,
I would thread this stone and take it for a promise
again and ever again.

You are here
in the gate, now thick with new paint, opening on the close
where you posed with a brassy smile
and a threaded stone ring upon your neck.
The cathedral of white pines where you wept, beloved of God,
burned to the ground a decade ago;
the sculptures took the heat and stayed.
Here where disciples drowse and Jesus pleads this cup to pass,
you are beloved again in tears
while hurries my heart to you.

September 30, 1999
Gethsemani Abbey, Kentucky

Dear Friends:

I'm much on the road since we are back from Hungary. Last week preaching and speaking in seminaries of Michigan and Indiana. This week in Kentucky. A good friend staying with Jeanie pulls the phone into the other room, drops her voice, and suggests it's time for me to be done with the road work. She may be right, but I'm not fully convinced. I can't hear it yet in Jeanie's voice on the line, so strong, or see it in her face across the table, so completely herself. Perhaps it is another cycle of denial, but if so I'm happy in it.

How's Jeanie? A neurologist declares her this day, "clinically quite good." My very sentiments, more or less. At present she's working on and off at the December issue on "healing from human evil." And she marked up this letter, correcting for typos and improvements.

The Budapest trip went well. We stayed in an apartment just across from the largest synagogue in Europe, entranceway to the ghetto in the thirties and forties. A Rosh Hashanah crowd overflowed into the street. Even went to a Klesmer concert there. Its onion-topped towers across the roofs made our kitchen window view an easy place to pray.

Treatment, especially, went very well - with the doctor coming to our flat daily to build up the injections. (This virus, by the way, functions differently than I last described. It is not an immune system marker and enhancer, but instead works genetically to alter tumor cells, "allowing them to die," as it were).

Through the course of things, Jeanie felt fine enough (with appropriate mild fevers) that we were able to get around the city in vacation-like forays to castles and Danube boatrides. The girls came home with chess sets and secret-keyed jewelry boxes from the tented vendors. Lydia, who was the best street bargainer of our lot, was also unaccountably astonished when everything was in Hungarian instead of English. Lucy kept a daily journal answering questions put by her teacher. We even got my Mom to Salzburg on an Austrian overnight.

I weathered the stress of logistical anxiety, arranging hedges against every possible medical crisis in a foreign system. In the end, as a Vonnegut character says upon returning from a free trip to the Chronsynclastic Infindibulum, "Everything was wonderful and nothing hurt."

What we hadn't foreseen was how complicated and tricky it would be to bring back a non-FDA-approved treatment into this system. We'd gone with the blessing of our oncologist, who signed off on papers of non-objection and post-return monitoring, so we didn't imagine how difficult it would prove to acquire basic services and materials (like syringes and ports and the necessary orders which go with such devices). In the interim we've had to scramble for a fall-back and less efficient way of delivering the vaccine, as we figure a way around the barriers. And lots of this figuring has been managed while I am roadbound or borne by Jeanie and friends.

The other night we had a gathering of folks from around the Worker to think about logistical support in the next several months. What a wondrous circle of friends we are granted (including you, dear readers, at a distance). Food came in the door like a potluck unannounced. It felt more like a party or a prayertime than a planning session. I guess we go forward in a mix of all three, and in gratitude for each.