March 30. I was hot, sweaty. I like being hot, sweaty.
Five hours of landscaping, mulching. One last trip to the store, another twenty bags after the forty I’d spread. I paid, loaded my bags. Should I wait for someone to count my bags?
How long? Ten minutes?
I know I haven’t stolen a bag. God knows I haven’t stolen a bag. I am tired.
A communication occurred in my head. Go home.
It is difficult to drive. I reach home. I try to remove the bags, but suddenly they are too heavy. I am panting. I can’t understand why my feet and my hands are like ice.
An elephant – no, two elephants – are standing on my chest, with all eight of their feet.
My wife rushed me to the hospital, screeched to a stop. I fell out the passenger door. Want fast service at an e-room? Arrive falling out the car door, with your wife crying, “Chest pain, chest pain.”
During seventy-four years, no one, not ever, had ever warned me about my heart.
Next morning, after being catheterized and stented during three hours of urgent work by masterful technicians of cardio salvation, the chief nurse of last night’s team came into my ICU. “Dikkon, that heart attack was massive. If you had been ten minutes later getting here, I don’t think you’d be alive now.”
Remember: at the store? Do I wait?
My chest hurt. And the surgery to implant an ICD hurt worse. It left me breathless and dizzy and unable to climb stairs. But I was not scared. Throughout, I had never been scared.
All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
Julian of Norwich said that, and I’m glad she did.
The quote from that 14th century English anchoress continued to buoy me without fear. But I needed more. I needed a book to read. I read a lot. I always need a book to read. And since my heart attack I’d been on a fiction jag.
There’s a writer of intense, thrilling novels of whom I had heard but whom I had never read. I wondered – could I find one of his?
I had no title in mind, but I liked what I knew. He lives in Florida, his settings are usually oceans or lakes, he is respected in Christian circles, and – since I’d seen a photo of him and his family – I felt drawn to him.
Despite emotional pain in my family, despite sudden elephant pain on my heart without warning, despite wondering what to do in retirement after it is thrust upon me, despite recognizing with a grip of sadness that our pastor really is also about to retire – despite all that, yet still buoyed by the words of Julian of Norwich, all things shall be well, in the Lord.
Which means that miracles abound.
I entered the bookstore – shelves in all directions. Dozens of thousands of books. There must be one here for me. The fiction shelves, trade paperbacks and mass market paperbacks. My man was not there.
I began to be sad. I’d staked my heart on finding a book of his. Oh, I could always buy something else. But now I felt I had a mission, and I don’t like failing in my missions.
Where else might they shelve him?
Oh! Duh. Religion. Of course.
And right there, exactly at my eye level, exactly in the middle of a shelf otherwise laden with Amish-girl-meets-motorcycle-bum stories – right there, just as though it had deliberately been placed there, spine out, was the single Charles Martin book in the whole store.
The Holy Spirit must have engineered this placement, just as he had engineered my quick trip home from the mulch store.
Gratefully, I pulled the book off the shelf – its subtitle: A Novel of the Heart.
I love hearts.
… having never thought much about them before.
Seven-year-old Annie is doing a brisk business in the middle of her small southern town, selling lemonade from her stand. The stranger who lives beside the lake, the man who observes the scar on Annie’s chest, knows more than he is willing to admit. And the radio-blasting delivery truck careening around the corner – it changes the trajectory of both of their lives, as well as of most other of the lives in that town.
Three hundred thirty pages later, I knew why crickets cry, who the stranger is and why he won’t tell, what really happened during the storm, how Charlie became blind, really how heart surgery works … and also that miracles are both as commonplace and as mysterious as a glass of lemonade from a little girl’s stand.
And that I had stayed up nearly all night, reading faster and faster, moaning as each new connection was made, in tears, hand over my heart, with deep thanks for the man who could execute so flawlessly in fiction as to redeem me from the fearsome weight of both of my elephants.
Dikkon Eberhart is the author of The Time Mom Met Hitler, Frost Came to Dinner, and I Heard the Greatest Story Ever Told, Paradise, and On the Verge. Dikkon is a Maine native transplanted recently to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. He is a retired salesman, former actor and food critic, and always a writer.
Read more at www.dikkoneberhart.com