Linda E. Clarke
Once upon a long eighteen years ago, I got sick.
I was just finishing ten years of hospital-based ethics work, and at first I thought that the work had made me sick. I thought that the stress of hearing so many difficult stories, of witnessing so much suffering, was hurting me. I was wrong.
I was sick from a growth in my brain.
The growth was found after I'd shuttled from doctor to doctor, from appointment to appointment, from X-ray to scan. It took a long year. By then, my pain was clothed in shame. Undiagnosed pain does that: It draws the gaze of friends, family and providers. Everyone looks for the cause.
"Soul pain," said one doctor. "Anxiety," said another.
We stand outside in the heat. We swat at the occasional persistent mosquito. We try to ignore the sweat beading down our foreheads and the backs of our necks. We retreat to the deepest recesses of shade we can find. We wish for a hint of a wisp of a smidgen of a breeze. We hold court on life and love. We laugh and tease and are determined to have a good time. We could be in Atlanta or Austin or Anytown, USA.
We pretend that we're not afraid.
We are afraid, though. Our fear is legitimate: Some people hate us. And some of them are armed and dangerous.
His hand-carved pipes still lean
in their rack like a row of saxophones
and fill the room with memories
of black vinyl records, Glenn Miller’s band
playing "Chattanooga Choo Choo,"
a kitchen match scratched
across the bottom of his shoe
and swirling clouds of tobacco smoke,
a tribute to the charred remains
of the man who still lives in smoke-filled
images of when we breathed the same air.