Rejoice In It
Let me set the scene. It’s the summer of 1987, around then, on the central east coast of Florida – specifically the town of Edgewater, about 20 miles north of Cape Canaveral. Most Monday through Friday afternoons would find me sitting in a small clubhouse on a side street off US 1, there with a bunch of people talking about trying to unscrew-up their lives. I was hoping to do that too.
Summer in Florida must feel like the steam used to turn a nuclear turbine, except more humid – and probably hotter. It’s hot. I note what’s common knowledge because once or twice a week these two guys would walk into that clubhouse meeting and sit in the back. Both these guys, late 20’s, early 30’s, were ditch diggers. They dug ditches for a living and mostly by hand in that Florida summer steam bath and they’d come in covered in brown dust with little riverlets of cleaned-off streaks where sweat had slipped through the dirt. You can probably picture that. Sorry, I don’t remember their names.
I point out these guys’ appearance because there was something striking in the fact that one of those two guys would raise his hand every time he showed up and every time he raised his hand and got called on to speak, he’d say the same thing: “This is the day the Lord hath made, and I will rejoice in it.” He said that every time.
Well, it took me a while to get past the “hath”, quite a while, but once I did, this guy, both of them, rejoicing in their days, kind of ‘no matter what’, that began to stick with me. These guys got around on bicycles and I know that because I had a pickup and loaded their bikes in the back in a thunderstorm once and drove them to the trailer which was their home. Them, no doubt, rejoicing all the way.
Last night, Monday night, I had some fairly wicked pain in my colon, I don’t really know that, somewhere down there, and I’ve had similarly located pains rarely but consistently as far back as I can remember. Kind of a Buddy Cushman idiosyncrasy. I mentioned it to Susan, whom I was sitting next to on the couch, and told her if I was scoring pain level on a one to 10 scale I’d give it a two and a half. Shortly thereafter I laid my head down on her knees and we watched a DVD episode of ‘Elementary’ during which I fell asleep, kind of a ritual for us most nights. When it was over I pulled myself up and there was a new pain, down low in my right side just over from the front and it was wicked, I could barely stand and barely move to rearrange all the books and notebooks that begin days on the coffee table and make journeys over the couch and recliner and get put to bed back where they began. I had the thought I may need to call 911. Then I had the thought I would ask Susan to call 911. Then I had the thought I would ask Susan to put a mask on my face before the ambulance folks hauled me out. Covid and all.
But instead I dragged myself upstairs and moaned a while and sat in the upstairs recliner very quietly and statue-like and slowly and surely the pain subsided. By the time I crawled into bed maybe half an hour later I would have scored it at .5, maybe a smidge higher. Which, the vanishing pain, did not keep the thought from my mind, or, I guess, probably traveling all through my heart and soul, that I might not wake up tomorrow. I think it’s a 72 year-old thought. I don’t remember having it at 27.
But then I did. I woke up tomorrow – which is today, Tuesday – and after a quick negative glimmer about some minor crap bothering me, the voice of the guy in Edgewater spoke clearly in my head. Crystal. – “This is the day the Lord hath made, and I will rejoice in it.” And right then, swear to God, I had a vision of Caspar the Friendly Ghost, the one in the Christina Ricci and Bill Pullman movie, drifting across the room, giving my right cheek a little pinch, and with his big smile saying, “You made it, Bro. You woke up. Again. You’re still here.”
An hour later I took a pic of myself in the morning recliner, after praying and meditating, after coffees and reading, after looking at an art book, and I posted it on Facebook with the caption “I’m still here.” I’d already made a decision, a vow, to rejoice in this day. This Tuesday. Rejoice all day today.
Maybe hold the hath.