Monday, April 16, 2012

The Appeal

Mt Toby Retreat at Woolman Hill, 2012
It is quite early, I've been sitting on the porch of the meeting house (the same building as pictured here) at Woolman Hill. The sun is just rising as the fog is lifting. There is a riot of birds. They flit from place to place, making any manner of sounds. Chirps, chats and caws, whistles and songs fill the air. Woodpeckers are doing their work at different pitches and tempos. There is so much bird racket that an ornithologist would be challenged to name them all.

Sitting here I am also remembering the appeal Rahima made to the Quaker community in this building on the closing day of a weekend retreat (January 27-29, 2012) for the members and friends of the Mount Toby Meeting of Friends in nearby Leverett, Massachusetts where I attend and Rahima visited from time to time.

The retreat occurred on the weekend of my 49th birthday, so I made a request of Rahima. Instead of an elaborate party—she was a great party planner—I simply wanted to attend the retreat together, all weekend. This was a sacrifice for Rahima since it involved giving up contra dancing. In her adaptive way, Rahima brought a big cake to share and planned a fun dance for folks at the retreat.

As it happened, leading up to the retreat we received the devastating news that the "triple-negative" breast cancer for which Rahima had been treated had metastasized. First, on January 20, we read the results of the brain scan that showed areas of concern. Then on January 27, my birthday, a PET scan showed conclusively that the disease had spread throughout Rahima's body. Not only the brain was involved, but the lungs, liver and bones.

We carried this news into the retreat. Only two women, Mary and Margaret, knew our burden. They were like attending angels to us the whole weekend.

Rahima was greatly concerned for herself, but also for the other participants in the retreat. Should she share or not? By the time of the closing circle the answer was clear to her.

The retreat concluded with a group sharing. Going from person to person around the room, we were instructed to say our name, to whom we were going home, and what the retreat meant to us. The line of speakers meandered around the room. It became apparent that I would be the last to speak, and Rahima the next to last. It was then that Rahima looked at me and mouthed the words, "I want to share." I gave a knowing smile and nodded.

When Rahima's turn came, instead of standing in place as the other's had done, she moved to a raised step near the center of the gathering and spoke, the sunlight touching her auburn hair. The two angels, Mary and Margaret, had been sitting in front of and beside us. When Rahima rose to speak, they seized me.

I don't remember what I said at all or most of what Rahima said apart from telling her truth: her body was now riddled with cancer and she was facing death soon. However, I will always remember her appeal: "Hold the pieces of Andy's shattered heart until he can put them back together."

She recognized that I have found my spiritual home among the Friends (Quakers) and she, in her time of great suffering, was showing me the greatest compassion. My wellbeing was her concern.

Afterwards, a sixteen-year-old girl came up to Rahima and said: "You are the bravest person I have ever met." I agree.

My heart is full of wonder and gratitude.


If you were there at the close of the retreat, please help me with details of your experience. What exactly did Rahima say? What did I say? How were you affected by this event?

1 comment:

  1. Andy, I'm so glad you created this blog. I'm sure it's healing for you. After yesterday at the home you and Rahima shared (it was a true privilege to play even a tiny part in your enormous, difficult task) I felt compelled to know more about Rahima. I knew I had seen something about her passing, but hadn't attended her service. (turns out I was in Maine, on 'retreat' honoring my own memories, transitions of family members). I've just read the top entry and the link to the weekend retreat where Rahima chose to share the news. I look forward to reading more posts so I can learn more about this wonderful woman whose earthly belongings I am having the privilege of helping you pack.