This morning a chocolate lab puppy almost died, running through the old, open gate out of his yard into the street to meet my yellow lab, Hank. I heard the screeching of brakes but didn’t see the puppy until he had safely crossed the street and started jumping on 90-pound Hank. I grabbed his collar while the labs innocently sniffed and wrestled, unaware that the Angel of Death was hovering close. The man who slammed on his breaks yelled out the window to me “That dog almost died!” while he kept driving on. He did not say I almost killed that dog because I was speeding on a street that says 35 MPH, half a block from an elementary school.
I yelled back “Can you stop and help me?” not clear how I would get across the street with both dogs, drivers whizzing by now in both directions, anxious to get to where they need to be on Monday morning at 8:15am. The man was long gone; I yelled to his shadow or to the sky. “Can you stop and help me?” I heard my voice cracking and held that pup tight with one hand, tightened Hank’s leash with the other and ran. The dog’s owner came out of his house and thanked me. “Time to fix the gate,” he said, looking at his shoes.
I walked Hank along our usual morning path, trying to grasp the grace or chance that saved that sweet puppy. He gets to live today, to eat his kibble and sleep and wait for his owner to come back home after work and his family gets to go on with their Monday, unchanged, because one man was quick with his brakes.
There have been times, too many of them, when my almost 16-year-old son, who is autistic and has an intellectual disability, has bolted for no apparent reason from what I thought was a locked house, right into the street and but for the grace of God, there were no cars coming. Those stories about mothers who lift a refrigerator or a car off of their child? Those are real stories. I’ve chased my son and wrangled him, he who weighs 130 pounds more than me and doesn’t want to budge, back into the safety of the house. I can’t describe exactly what it feels like, except that it’s a fight for life and death.
Three days ago, I got notice that insurance will pay for me to get a new insulin pump sensor combination, the latest technology, the closest thing there is to an artificial pancreas, with continuous glucose monitoring and insulin adjustments made by technology of some kind that I haven’t bothered to read about yet. I’ve been waiting for the cure for Type 1 diabetes since the day I was diagnosed, almost 38 years ago at age 10, when the doctor told me that a cure would be coming soon. I was daydreaming about how this new system might allow me to set fewer nighttime alarms to check my blood sugar and maybe I would sleep better and what that might feel like when I saw in my Facebook feed, scrolling through just to zone out for a few minutes, that an 8-year-old girl with Type 1 had died during a sleepover at a friend’s house. It’s a near death experience every day, someone else with Type 1 once said to me. Somehow for 38 years I’ve woken up every time I’ve gotten a low blood sugar at 2 or 3 or 4 or 5am, but this little girl didn’t.
I read myself to sleep most nights. I’m reading a terrific memoir now by author Claire Tomalin, A Life Of My Own. Two nights ago, I read the pages about her daughter Susannah, who took her own life, in Tomalin’s home, while she was downstairs. That night I dreamt that my friend’s young adult daughter, who is overcoming depression, was visiting me and was so happy. She was wearing a bright tye-dye shirt and I said goodnight to her and asked if she needed anything and then there I was, discovering her dead body just like Tomalin had with her daughter. I woke up struggling to leave the dream, it felt that real, the edge between life and death just a veil we mostly choose not to see.
In my Sunday School class, there is a new first grader who is shy and his Mom stays with him. Last week, she starts to tell me about her work as a physician’s assistant working on a cardiac surgery team and I tell her about how my Dad survived his heart attack at age 52, how he had bypass surgery and is now 81 and how he’s exercised and eaten well all of those years. She’s impressed and inspired and as I tell her, I return to the morning he fell on the floor, how I heard the thud from my bed, the wall next to the bathroom floor where he landed. I want to tell her about the hospital chaplain, the Catholic priest, who held my hand and stayed with us in the twilight hours but the children had finished their coloring and needed to wash their hands and get ready for snack.
Walking Hank back towards our house this morning, I see that the big maple tree on the corner has already lost its red leaves, the first to go this October. The leaves on the wet ground make me remember the Rilke poem I love so much, Autumn:
The leaves fall, fall as from far,
Like distant gardens withered in the heavens;
They fall with slow and lingering descent.
And in the nights the heavy Earth, too, falls
From out the stars into the Solitude.
Thus all doth fall. This hand of mine must fall
And lo! the other one:—it is the law.
But there is One who holds this falling
Infinitely softly in His hands.
We return to the house and I give Hank his treat, and a kiss on the head. There is One who holds this falling, I tell Hank. He smiles at me, then gnaws his bone.