Roy Exum: It’s How Well We Mend

Sunday, October 20, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

It’s not exactly something you want your banker or your mother to know, but in June a very smart and quite perceptive medical doctor spent almost two hours talking to me and told me some important things I’ve never heard before. He told me that I was a whole lot sicker than I thought I was. As a matter of fact, he also told me that it was his notion I had somewhere between 12 and 18 months more to live if I stayed on the increasingly narrow road I was headed. Whenever somebody spreads a coat of gloom over me like that, I’ll immediately counter with a one-liner, or a joke, like, “Heck, ain’t you even gonna’ take my temperature or something?”

But on this particular day I surprised myself. I’m tired of bleeding. I’ve had it with pain, the monthly parade to the operating rooms, and sitting while Denise cuts my hair and noticing in the mirror that my washed-out skin compared to hers looks like a glass of skim milk. I could see it – I knew I look like death eating a cracker. So, when that doctor told me that my tomorrows don’t look as good as yours, I might have paused one count longer than I normally would and asked him in a calm voice, “You reckon there may be a way we could hurry that up?”

I know that’s a crummy story coming from me, yet it is true as it can be. The reason I tell it is because since then I’ve discovered one of the greatest life’s truths there has ever been. You need to know that because that’s the easiest way for you to understand why I’ve just ordered four grams of finely-ground Egyptian Gold dust from Amazon for $7.79. Four grams of anything is 0.14 ounces. Yes, there are still 16 ounces in a pound so thank God you need only mere dust to illustrate today’s lesson about Roy and all of those he loves.

Since then, I’ve had the current issue of a magazine called ‘The Magnolia Journal’ in my lap. It’s a quarterly that comes out of Waco, Texas and, while it doesn’t yet have that soft-leather assuredness my Lucchese boots do, it carries enough Texas simplicity to assure promise. In this issue then is an essay written by Austin Sailsbury, “Into the Golden Hour” that heralds autumn. Part of its beauty can be read in this excerpt:

* * *


(written by Austin Sailsbury on his blog, September 23, 2019, and printed in The Magnolia Journal, Issue No. 12)

"A change is in the air; a great mellowing is at work. It's in the wind, in the earth, inside each and every one of us. And somewhere, not far off, in the distance, wood smoke is seasoning the evening sky.

Each year autumn arrives all bluster, and like an old friend, invites us to come outside and enjoy a few more days of color and light. In the fall, we watch the sky. We listen for rain. We stop to watch the trees and their painted leaves. We pack away our beach chairs and unpack our woolen socks. We settle into our long pants and our sturdy boots and our trusty old raincoats.  We return to books half-read and sweaters half-knitted and favorite old recipes written in our mother's hand. This time of year, we remember our love of pumpkins and pecans; we pick barrels of apples and bake with buckets of cinnamon.

Each year, autumn reminds us to return to the routines that anchor our lives in time. We feel nostalgia deeply and embrace ritual fiercely. We go home again. We relive glory days. We gather together in September stadiums, around October bonfires, and at long November tables. And in the shadow of the dimming natural world, we tell and retell tales.”

* * *

Roy’s tale this fall is that I’ve come to realize one of the primary necessities in our journey is the ability to mend. Nobody gets through without some scars. If you’ll read your Bible, you’ll find that every single person you encounter in its pages was broken. Jesus is the great healer – Without Him none of us can fully heal, mending being one and the same. I am totally convinced that there has never been one person who walked on this earth, outside of the Savior, who could have done it alone. Oh, there are some who have claimed to live their lives without a faith, which I don’t understand how anyone can do without the gift of believing in something, but that’s not my problem. I have my hands full - with me - and the fact I’m assured of a victory at the end is sometimes the only way I can bear up but so far it has worked if by the hardest.

My curse is infections. The death’s scenario this summer I have known all about. One day my knee or arm could become so infected with my devilish osteomyelitis that the last option is to cut my leg off. Please, that’s a day way down the line, but then the stump likely won’t heal because the resistance I’ve built up against the ‘mycin’ family of drugs and those won’t work, so we cut off more of my leg. Then the infection will creep inside my body and I’ll go septic, again with no recourse. There will be nothing anyone can do outside of hospice, and there I’ll croak, just like other people with infections do more than you suspect. Whoa now, I am not crying nor complaining. Instead I choose to make the changes that I require. I pray more. I focus on getting down as much protein as I can. I have a blood specialist, how about that? I take antibiotics every day. I graze on potassium, take iron intravenously when I must, and monitor my blood, my weight, this all the time. Don’t worry … it’ll be a while before there is a line of daytime headlights going down the road with me in the lead.

That’s not the way I roll. If you tell me I have 12-to-18 months before I die, what you mean to say is that I have 12-to-18 months to live. Given time, I can change some of the circumstances. Let’s suppose you had a claw hammer that was broken because one of its two claws had snapped off. Well, you would make your focus on driving straighter nails with the same hammer and quit worrying about pulling out the bent ones. Trust me, I can change. All of my life, whenever somebody would ask what I wanted for Christmas, my stock answer has been “A chance.” I’m a long way from throwing in, and my all-knowing friends look at me these days and say, “Your color is better …”

Back when I was little, and finally old enough to start breaking bones, I was told that a broken bone is actually stronger at the break itself than the original parts. Since then, I’ve had more sutures than it would take thread to make every soldier in the Third Army a quilt. I’ll admit I have wished for better luck, that I still wish I didn’t have to drag a drainage machine around, and all else, but I’d rather it be me than somebody else – I already know what to do instead of bothering some nurses, how to eat yogurt so the meds don’t make you miserable, and realize how much easier it is to tend to me rather than fret myself crazy if it was some other member of my family.

Now let’s get to the gold dust. In the same issue of The Magnolia Journal was a story on the centuries’ old Japanese art of ‘kintsugi’ (kint-soo-gee) and, brother, I’m all in. I promise, I have already ordered my gold dust because if ever there was the story of my last 40 years better told than in the wonder of kintsugi, I do not know it.

Many years ago, those who dealt in the delicate ceramics of 15th century Japan were able to recognize that life is never totally broken, nor fully without flaw. But - wait - when the cracks need mending, the pieces glued back, the unsightly chips replaced, we have a choice in the repairs we make to whatever is broken. If we recognize that the cracks in the delicate china are akin to the lessons we have learned during the dark days, from our outward injuries as well as our inner hurts, we can repair the vessel in a way we can also soothe ourselves.

Let’s say on the mantle is a coffee cup that was found among the ashes after the Yankees who marched with Sherman set fire to our ancestors’ home place during the Civil War. The cat, scrambling to escape the two-year-old that is trying to torment its tail, dives for sanctuary onto the mantle, knocking off the cup that has withstood over 150 years. We meticulously gather every chip and sliver of the cup, taking glue and lacquer to repair the damage. But we also take a fine line of gold dust to put in the mend, this based on the idea that there is new strength and beauty in the cup that it didn’t have for its first 150 years.

Just as a broken bone heals to be stronger, just as repeated surgeries finally pay off better than we thought, the cup is made whole once more. Yet this time, with the gold defining the break and adding an almost-sacred extra panache, oh sonny boy … the 15th century Japanese artistry has resulted in a work of art that honors what has mended, rather than lament the sorrow of our breaks. True, we can’t make it like new, but we can add to its character, its rightful place among our treasures, and the golden reflection it too has weathered the storm.

Therein is the lesson. It isn’t about dying, instead it becomes about living. About keepin’ on. It isn’t about breaking, but about mending. It’s about focusing not the line of the break, but in the gold we can find and we can see that in any life’s event where we can jolly well mend, and with  a speck or two of gold dust, make it even for the better.

I really like that.

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