The Sounds of Joy
It is with a certain and indescribable heaviness of heart that I write this entry today. Never has my soul felt as wooden or as unrevivable as it does now, for never have I had to let go of a friend. I have been blessed with many great friendships in life, most of which have continued on good terms, very few of which did poorly, and only one of which that, today, has finally ended in death.
I wish I could say that I am writing this for her, but she is in a far better place now, one where she is finally liberated from this world of hevel, this place of sorrows. No, I am not writing this for her. I am writing this for me.
Sonia learned to whistle. I always thought people were born with or without the ability and that was it… kinda like being able to bend your elbows backwards or curl your tongue up in a cloverleaf or be an engineer. Sonia and I met during her freshman year; I was a sophomore in the residential college and we’d occasionally hang out in another friend’s room. My friend and I would usually be tackling a problem set and Sonia would be on the couch or rocking in a chair and reading a book. I don’t remember when she started trying to whistle; I think she was a bit shy about it. Occasionally, when we were engrossed in our work or weren’t paying attention, she’d purse her lips and blow air out. If she managed to make a sound, it was a single note. Never a full-blown, complex melody. Always a single note, but it was whistling nonetheless.
Singing, however, came completely naturally to her. Whether it was humming or crooning a soft tune, song was something that flowed from her in her private moments of happiness and contentment. It was always a sign that, somehow and in someway, everything was alright. Maybe not great or fabulous, but okay. There were occasions when I felt like I couldn’t read her emotions or tell when she was upset with something, but I always felt that if she was humming then all was well with her and the world.
Perhaps this was why her illness caused such pain and dischord in me. It was all so sudden, too sudden for me. Out there on the other side of the world, the singing and whistling Sonia I knew was breathing on a respirator. She couldn’t do the one thing I knew would indicate to me that everything was alright, that all was well in the world. And I suddenly realized that that memory was all I had left of her. We hadn’t really talked in years, and even though that was a matter of neglected friendship and not one of dissonance, it still made me feel unbearably guilty that I had not taken the time to talk with her more.
For two months, I (and many others) followed the ups and downs of her condition and prognosis closely. The strangest part of it all was beginning to see the process of illness, life, and death through the eyes of a doctor for the first time: looking up details about the disorder, lab results, and treatment options; beating the table with helpless frustration at medical errors and miscommunication with the medical staff; being paralyzed by the fear that, one day, my errors may cause someone such harm and grief. This past Monday in class, the lecturer ran down the entire list of complications of Sonia’s conditions in five minutes… a list of complications that took her doctors months to puzzle through. Even today in class we looked at a lung section that probably contained the same infections that burdened Sonia for the last time today. I am at a loss for a resolution to this juxtaposition, and I am not sure that such resolution is something I am meant to find soon.
And yet… in looking at the immediate response of the people that were her (and my own) friends, I see an incredible outpouring of joy. Inexplicable, unrestrained joy. It surges like a wave upon the shore, like something that has been building for so long and is now no longer held back by or for anything. The comments posted on her Facebook and Xanga themselves provide evidence of the crescendo that began with heartfelt prayers & encouragements and now overflow with thanksgiving, praise, and that most unexpected of emotions, joy.
The last post of her Xanga reads:
“Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life. Well, valuable, but small. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave?”
from You’ve Got Mail
Despite my initial memories of her as a shy, introspective, fun-loving girl, I remember her now as thoughtful, seeking the noble, and most certainly brave until the end. There are doubts and dark thoughts that continue to linger in my mind, but for now and in the face of all that is joyful, I will continue to long for that day when my profession will be obsolete. I will choose to have faith and remember that Sonia lived for the singular purpose of glorifying God and that her countenance must shine a little brighter and a little more cheerfully than my eyes have ever seen and is whistling a tune far more beautiful than anything my ears have ever heard. Somehow, and in someway, everything is alright. All is well with her and will someday be with this world.
Dedicated to Sonia, who continues to inspire me to write, to practice medicine, to glorify God, and to whistle.