Monday, January 07, 2008

Boston, Massachusetts

I've put off posting this blog entry for too long, without quite knowing how to begin or having the courage to say in words what has turned out to be true. On Christmas Eve, I took Karl to the emergency room in Chattanooga with a severe headache. It had come on when he arrived, and was accompanied by fever, exhaustion, vomiting, and a complete lack of appetite. It turned out to be a kind of rare fungal meningitis.

He was released three days later and we decided to postpone our return tickets to the Bahamas in order to return to Massachusetts where we have health insurance and doctors. On the way back up he had a relapse. He's been now in the hospital here almost a week with no end in sight. Even once he's released, the doctors say he'll need a two-month course of hardcore anti-fungal drugs.

Obviously, my first concern is Karl's health and the second Secret. That being said, I dream every night of her. One recurring dream ends with three of us, who I don't know, plunging into crystal blue water, laughing, swimming to where I can see Secret nestled securely in an empty bay. I wake up in horror and fear, and gather my shreds of courage around me like a blanket.

I turned thirty this week. Everyone remembered--my family sent exquisite packages, Sally gave a card, and Karl, at one in the morning, reached over from his hospital bed to hold my hand where I lay on my cot next to him and said, "Happy birthday Melissa." I couldn't ask for a better present than that. Still, I feel like everything I love and have worked so hard for has been taken away. I was so close to grasping the dream, to holding it tightly in my hand, and its dissolved in my fingers.

It's at times like these that I'm glad I didn't name this journal "The Voyages of the Good Ship Secret" or some other such inane thing. I named it Casting Off for good reason. I can only believe that this is happening because I haven't cast off enough, haven't sacrificed enough, because God knew I need more things stripped away: my pride, my ambition, my sin.

I can only believe that I'm being punished for something. But maybe that's just New England at this time of year bringing out the worst in me. Perhaps there is simply too much Indian blood and too many whale bones scattered among the foundations of these cities. I've started dutifully taking St. John's Wort to combat my Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I'm not sure it's working. I keep wondering if it's named such after St. John of the Cross's dark night of the soul.

Why? I keep asking myself. Why now? Why here? What can it mean? Does it mean anything? Or does nothing mean anything and it's all a great big magician's trick? The cloth is whisked away and ta-da! Everything's disappeared. God as the great malevolent illusionist.

Have I traded all my hope for a lie? I can't believe that, so I don't. I'm writing late at night, alone. I don't know if these thoughts are fit for public consumption. It could be so much worse. I should be grateful, not angry. Karl's condition is completely treatable. He's only weak, not dying.

One of Karl's friends, on our drive up to the hospital, told me a story of another friend of his who's been diagnosed with bone cancer. His ribs are dissolving. The doctors say there's no point in even giving him chemotherapy until the pain gets too bad. It's only a matter of time for him.

By comparison, my complaints seem insignificant and selfish. Things could be so much worse. We have families and friends who love and support us. We have each other. We have our memories of the last four years. And we have hope. Or I try to have hope. I fight to have hope that one day that'll be me diving into the water to chase Secret again.

At church on Sunday, I kept breaking into tears every time the priest said, "Grant us thy peace." Grant me thy peace, Lord. As impossible as it is to imagine.

I remember the words of Keats: "Fled is that vision. Do I wake or sleep?"

And I cling to the words of the ancient Christian mystic, Dame Julian of Norwich, who says, "All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well."

8 comments: said...

Hello Melissa,
I just read your entry on Karl's illness and have spent the past hour googling fungal miningitis. I am so sorry for Karl and for your worries. He is in Boston, so he is in good medical hands. While this is devastating news, he will get better and you two will again know peace and well being. Your priorities rightly are on Karl now, and you should not have to worry about Secret.
Under these circumstances, others should do that for you. Hopefully, friends in the Bahamas are looking after your boat. And because of your blog, others going to the area will gladly look in on Secret. Because of your candidness, many readers feel they know you and Karl.
Blogging in a period of the dark night of the soul may not be the best time, but I think you are on the right track and that it helps you cope. I do not think though that, (as you said), "I can only believe that I'm being punished for something," is accurate. You had nothing to do with his medical condition. This was not a ship grounding or car crash, where you could punish yourself as an agent. Health crises are largely unforseen. Your response to crisis may be important though. You may choose to assign meaning to this as a "test," if you like, and you will be deepened by this period of grief and will grow in resolve to handle the deep waters of this kind of voyaging. But you will blue water voyage again and know a happiness steeled in present suffering for yourself and another. For abide with Karl in his time of need, with love and patience. Look to others for support, including for your dear boat, Secret. Dream by thinking leisurely of where you would like to be with Secret at forty, not thirty-one, and how you might get there. You have definitely "Cast Off." I think most cruisers would agree that you have dreamed more dreams in your twenties than most people dream in a lifetime. If you nurture and safeguard this adventurous spirit, you will again "Cast Off" after your refuge in this harbor during a storm. You will again explore, dream, and discover.
But for now, help your co- captain recover by taking the helm for a while.
Happy thirtieth birthday!

Walter Renn, Capt.
Dancing Star

Anonymous said...

Hi, what a curve ball! The blessing is that Karl got sick in the USA, and you have access to insurance coverage now. If this had happened in the Bahamas it certainly would have presented greater challenges, and if he was this ill there, could he have travelled back to the USA? Our hopes and prayers are with you and Karl, especially Karl at this time. Give Karl our best....

This is only a minor set back in the overall scheme of things. I don't believe God is punishing you...time and chance happens to us all, whether, or not we know and believe in God.

God Bless....

Clarke and Elaine Hockwald
Ontario, California

Melissa said...

Hello everyone,

Thanks so much for the outpouring of support, from everyone, both here and via email. It's been overwhelming, and I do feel much better about everything. I'm trying not to overreact, which I am prone to do, and I certainly appreciate that everyone has been so supportive.

I have been known to write blog posts during previous dark nights of the soul, and this was no exception. I know I'm not being punished. I don't believe in that kind of God, even if I doubt my belief sometimes. I do always feel personal responsibility for everything, and I wonder what could have bee prevented. Still, I have hope for the future, both for Secret and for us.

It's also odd that this crisis should come at such a pivotal moment for me personally, my thirtieth birthday. It does make one wonder if one has done enough with one's life, and your encouragement on that front makes me feel much more contentment.

I hope to meet all of you, on some later day, on some different path.


Anonymous said...

Melissa, I have been reading your blog since the beginning. I was sent the link by a friend on Cape Cod who works with someone that knows Karl. I wanted to tell you my prayers are with both you and Karl for a full recovery and return to your Spirit.

Anonymous said...

Any chance of your emailing me your email address directly? I believe you have my email address.
I want to discuss some tentative plans to sail to the Bahamas this spring, but off-blog.

Walt Renn, Capt.
s/v Dancing Star

Anonymous said...

Melissa and Walt

There ar elots of us that want tot sail to the Bahamas. Why have your discussion off-line. Share your experiences with us too.

Pacific NW Ranger 33 owner.

Kristin said...

Hi Melissa,
This is Kristin, John's wife. You have both been on my mind constantly since Karl called John last week. We both really care about you and Karl, and what you are going through right now. Happy Birthday. You have lived your first 30 years with a brave and adventurous spirit, and you will continue to do so with Karl. I hope I get a chance to talk to you soon.
WIth much love, Kristin

Melissa said...

Thanks so much, Kristin, for your thoughts and prayers. I hope we can see all of you soon. Karl's out now, and doing much better, although there are a ton of follow-up visits to the hospital planned. And thank John, too--I really appreciated that much-needed late-night ride up to see Karl that one night. He was a godsend that night, and Karl really appreciated him coming up too.