Sandra is in the hospital. And not just for observation, or to get some treatment for ulcers, or to get IV antibiotics for pneumonia. Sandra is in the ICU after having had cancer, then major surgery, a stroke, internal bleeding, a second surgery, and now forced sedation to prevent swelling in her brain. The woman who almost never stops talking is now forced into silence by a neurological "incident" and a breathing tube down her throat. The woman who lives to model new outfits is now dressed by strangers in a never ending parade of plain blue johnny shirts that are anything but stylish. The woman who makes her way to work every day, despite illness that would drive others to their beds, now just agitatedly mutters "Monday, Monday, Monday" in her brief periods of wakefulness, worried, no doubt, about losing her job because of her extended absence.
There are so many reasons to be sad about Sandra. And we are. Last night at prayer I could see the exhaustion, confusion, and latent tears in so many eyes. I could hear in people's prayers ("I pray for what's best for Sandra...") their uncertainty about where this is all headed and what we should be hoping for. Sitting with Sandra and talking with her family I heard so much anger and frustration - Sandra's life started when she came to L'Arche, they said. An explosion of joy, pride, opportunity, maturity...how could it all be at risk after just a year and a half? And in my own heart I feel all these emotions, too. Anger, fear, sadness, grief. Sleeping with the phone under my pillow in case there's a call. Searching the faces of the people who are managing Sandra's care for for some hint of what is in store for her. And for us.
Then yesterday I sat with Jamie, a newcomer to Sandra's house and one of her most fervent admirers. We talked about how sad it is that Sandra is sick again, and I described how serious the situation is. It was quiet for a minute, then Jamie said, "But she's a fighter, you know. She'll fight hard, Jenn."
Yes, she will.
Sandra has been a fighter all her life. Born with an intellectual disability in the 1950s, yet never doubting her own value. Losing her dad, her brother, and her mom in the span of just a few years yet still seeing the beauty of life. Having to leave her home with just a few days notice to move to the country with a bunch of people she'd never met and whose customs were, in Sandra's own words "pretty strange". And yet embracing our community, and all of us in it, with gusto and generosity and love.
Sandra fights because she believes in life, in life lived with abundance (but not vegetables). Sandra fights because she knows she has something to offer to this world, something like humour and music and hard work. Sandra fights because if she doesn't, who will fight for her?
Well, Sandra, we'll fight for you. In a very short time you have talked and sang and cried and demanded and charmed your way into our hearts. And now that you're in there, we won't let you out. We will fight with prayer and laughter and patience and hope. We will fight by shopping and singing and eating apple pie.
And we will be there for you when you need us. However you need us.