Mrs Garland’s gift.
‘Take everything with both hands and ask for more.’
Sometimes in life, a fortunate stroke of serendipity might allow us to encounter profound wisdom in a quite unexpected place, and moments like these only later reveal themselves as seed for hope.
Such was my good fortune one sunny morning when I was out for a walk in the fresh air of a long-awaited Spring, almost twenty years ago now, but the memory remains fresh in my mind. I was almost at the end of a 2-year treatment regime for Aplastic Anaemia, a serious blood disorder that can be fatal. Although my body had responded well to the treatment, my spirit was struggling. At diagnosis I was told that if the treatment did not work, I would have a 3-month prognosis at best. I was only twenty-five when I fell ill, and I had a future full of dreams ahead of me. What I needed, desperately, was a bone marrow transplant, but no suitable matched donor could be found and so an alternative treatment plan was put into place. As I slowly started to heal, some of the other patients that I encountered at the hospital, did not. At times I felt tremendous guilt for simply having life, coupled with a pervasive fear of the unknown. Why am I surviving this, and others not? Would the treatment work in the long-term? Might I relapse? And, the most disabling fear of all, if I were to relapse, would I survive a second time? These questions that plagued my inner-world were not unique. Many people who have battled cancer and other potentially life-limiting diseases have to face the reality of their own mortality, and the sheer vulnerability of life. I was tired of living with fear and I was searching for something—the permission to live, and to enjoy what I had been given.
And so, it was on that bright mid-week morning that I met Mrs Garland, a tiny, frail woman that I placed somewhere in her eighties. She had the loveliest smile and blue eyes that twinkled mischievously when she spoke. As we walked together in the sunshine, we exchanged pleasantries, and talked about the weather as strangers might do, but somehow, within a matter of minutes, the conversation grew deeper than what one would expect from two people who had never met until that day. I felt as if I had been drawn into a quiet place with this lovely woman who seemed to look right into the most afraid part of my heart. As our conversation kept pace with the soft rhythm of our feet on the sidewalk, I found myself telling her about the shock of falling ill, the two years of countless hospital visits, the never-ending blood and platelet transfusions, the countless pills that I had to take every day, the deep sense of loss and guilt that followed me around, and the dark fear that wanted to strangle me at times. Patiently, she listened to my whole story, a quiet nod of her head here and there, and when to my great embarrassment I started to cry, she didn’t once look away, she simply took both my hands in hers and said, ‘Life can be terrifying sometimes, and so unfair, but I decided a long time ago to live my life in only one way. I take everything with both hands, and I ask for more. Always ask for more, and it will come to you!”
I don’t remember much more of that day, but I have held onto Mrs Garland’s words like a lifeline.
And ever since that morning, when her wise words were planted so gently in my heart. I have lived my life with both hands stretched out, always asking for more! Always expecting more! And, time has proven her wisdom to be true. Over the years, I have received more than I could ever have dreamed I would be given. Time, the most precious gift of all, but also love, and a beautiful little boy, and a million other things like sunsets, and the song of a blackbird, the fragrance of my tea in the mornings, and poetry to read and fill my soul. And yes, some of what I had been given was hard, and the fear remained for a long time, but still I received it as a gift, and it taught me to live bigger—to live outward, beyond my fears. Not only for myself but for everyone who didn’t get to leave that hospital—I live my life for them, too, and I live it gratefully and with great joy. I slowly learned how to live more vulnerably, and how to show my heart to the world. I now see everything as a miracle, and my heart and hands have never stopped being full.
© Liezel Graham 2019.
Photograph by Javon Swaby.