I sat at the bottom of my attic stairs, my mind unable to process what I saw: our parish priest visiting my very sick father. My father lay very still on our pull-out sofa, where he'd lay for the past several days, hardly moving, hardly doing anything but fighting some battle I couldn't see but I hoped he'd win. The priest pulled up a chair and they talked together, in small voices.
Just two weeks prior to this visit, everything my father did was big. He was a runner, and not a jog-a-5K-on-the-weekend-without-training runner. He had fun training hard and seriously for 50 mile runs and other races his Ranger buddies challenged him to do. He'd say yes to any physical challenge, and then ask the details. He lifted up my sister and me whenever he needed or wanted to to put us on a high tree branch, throw us in the water, or give us a break during a long hike. Just like that, we were off our feet. Years ago, he combined his love of running and love for us girls when he ran a 5K pushing my 4 year old sister in a stroller and carrying 18 month old me on his back. We thought nothing of the pictures from that race--that was just our dad.
My dad had a big smile and a big role at Hunter Army Airfield, and the men who worked under him respected him but also liked him a whole lot. He was a leader who cared about them; he counseled them equally on military matters and wife woes. He was patient and wise and was either very serious in an un-Ranger, studious way or laughing loudly, hand on his chest to catch his breath from the joke. To me, he was the biggest man in the world; he stood 30 feet tall from my little-girl vantage point. He was my hero.
But just a handful of days ago, when Dad returned home from a training exercise in Nicaragua, he brought back little souvenirs for us girls and some unknown parasite. Within hours, his strength deteriorated and his energy disappeared. I sat and watched as he had to rest between orange slices. The energy it took to chew was just too much for him. Chew, chew....rest, rest, rest. Breathe a few shallow breathes. Chew, chew...rest, rest, rest. Breathe a few shallow breathes. This pattern was just crazy. To me, the situation was absolutely incomprehensible.
Luckily for my father, the Ranger doctor did his homework and kept up on emerging vaccines and diseases that his men might need and face. The same week Dad returned home from Nicaragua, the doctor opened a report about a new version of lyme disease that was previously unseen in the United States. Dad was one of the first. Luckily for Dad, his symptoms were normal--a bull's eye rash, fever, loss of muscle mass. Within a few days of treatment, my dad started to return to his normal big, smiling self.
To me, the transformation and the escape from death seemed nothing short of a miracle. It was the first time in my life when I realized how quickly circumstances can change. Just like that. In the blink of an eye. One minute, I thought my dad--my hero of all heroes--was going to die. And in the next minute, he was going to be okay. The realization that life is fragile smacked me in the face--there was no getting around this lesson. And it was the first time I felt truly relieved and oh so grateful.