By The Touch of His Cloak
Miriam heaved and vomited. The doctors had told her she would feel like this with the chemotherapy. It's not worth it, she thought. The vomiting ceased and she wiped her mouth with a dirty towel. She looked in the mirror and was startled by her ashen face and her hair loss. She realized she looked fifty instead of thirty-six. She looked at the dirty towel. No one to do the laundry-no one to clean the house-no one...Why had she developed cancer of the cervix? She had enjoyed her men. Wasn't that normal? Her eyes welled up with tears as she recalled Simon.
She had met Simon, tall, thin, with penetrating black eyes and black hair, at a friend's party. At his side Miriam appeared comical because he was so tall and she was so petite. But they were attracted to each other at once.
"Do you have a name, my lady?" he asked.
"Simon, as in Simon Peter?" she asked.
"Yes. That's my name, except it is Peters, Simon Peters." he said. "How did you know?"
"I used to know Peter, the one in the Bible."
"You can't be that old!"
They laughed. The rest of the evening they flirted with each other until the party faded into midnight and then Simon asked "Your place or mine?"
"Mine, I think," Miriam said. She liked the security of her home in San Antonio, Texas, because she had had a few bad experiences when she went to the guy's place. However, she had no bad vibes about Simon. She believed he was the most wonderful man she had ever known. When they arrived at her place and faded into their sexual desire, she realized she was not wrong. She had never felt this way before. Simon was special and she thought he felt the same way about her.
At first, Simon was the perfect lover. He sent her flowers and love letters and of course frequently made love to her. "I love you, Miriam," he would say. "I want to be with you forever."
"Forever?" she asked. "What do you mean, Simon?"
He would caress her body and kiss her passionately but would not commit himself. Then, during one tender moment, he asked her, "Miriam, will you marry me?"
Believing he was sincere, Miriam answered, "Yes, Simon. Yes. I'll marry you!"
For about three months her joy was complete. Then one night while she was with Simon, she began to bleed from her vagina and it did not stop. She thought it might be a miscarriage. Simon suggested she see a doctor. The doctor placed a gauze pack in her vagina to control the bleeding. She was to change packs when she felt the gauze was soaked. She had tests done and a few days later the results came.
"Is everything all right, Doctor Pearson?" she asked.
"Not quite, Miriam?" the doctor said, his face like flint, his tone cold. "But there is hope."
"What are you talking about?"
"Miriam, you have cancer of the cervix. This is common in women much older than you, but I believe we have caught it in time. We can treat you with chemotherapy and follow-up with radiation therapy as well. There's a good chance that you may go into remission."
"What are you saying?" she asked, denial swelling up inside her. She could not grasp the news. She walked out of the office thinking they mixed my tests with someone else.
When she told Simon, he immediately changed. He was no longer funny or loving or kind and he avoided her. Miriam suspected that he might not be as sincere as she had thought. It was cold of him to end it on the phone the way he did.
"Miriam?" he asked.
"I've thought about our situation. I don't think that we should be together anymore."
"Are you backing out, Simon?"
"Miriam." he said. You are ill. You need someone professional to care for you. I don't know anything about medical things or cancer or such."
"Yes, Simon. I understand."
She did not cry. She sat at the dresser combing her shoulder-length silky brown hair and looking in the mirror. "I'll beat this thing," she said. "I'll beat it."
That was then. Now she felt sick. She wanted to end it all and thought death would be a relief. Suddenly the memory of Jesus dying on the cross flashed before her. She had been educated in a Catholic school. She learned her catechism well, but had abandoned her Christian learning when she left her plump, protective Auntie Sadie, who had raised her when her parents died. Now she recalled the teachings of Jesus and yearned to visit a church.
St. Paul Catholic Church was about a mile from her house. She walked the distance though she felt weak. When she entered the church it was dark, except for the flickering candles where the statues of the saints were placed. Then she reached Mary's Chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed. Candles burned and overhead lights were turned on. She sat a long time contemplating the life of Jesus as she had learned it, his passion and death. She looked around. There on the pew was a holder which had a book with the gospel readings for the Sunday Masses. She opened it and read the passage from Mark 5:25-34:
There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.' Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out asked, ‘Who has touched my clothes?' But his disciples said to him, ‘You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask who touched me?' And he looked around to see who had done it. The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.'
Now Miriam cried. She poured forth her soul to the one who can heal all and she experienced a cleansing and immeasurable peace. At that moment she changed, wanting to live or die. She was prepared to experience the healing of Jesus just as that woman had in the Bible story, but she understood intensely that healing does not always come with life but also with death. Wasn't Jesus raised from the dead? She experienced a religious awakening that gave her the strength to continue her struggle. No longer feeling sorry for herself, she decided to continue her chemotherapy. She felt the courage to die if that was what Jesus wanted. She was cured of her first affliction-the desire to be a woman of the world. Now she was a woman of God's world.
Everyone at the Willis Cancer Center, where Miriam took her treatments admired her. "How's our lady today?" asked Karen, one of the nurses.
"Not too well, but you already know that, don't you?" Miriam asked. "It's a beautiful fall day outside though. That brightens me because I can go to the park."
"Miriam, you go to the park after the treatment?" asked Karen.
"Not immediately after. I wait for the side effects to subside. Listen to me. I'm talking like a regular doctor, aren't I?"
They all laughed. Miriam took her treatment went home and did as much as she could around the house. It was messy, but she didn't care. She was alone except for Jesus who she knew didn't mind the mess.
She spent most of the morning in the bathroom spilling her guts out. Then she would gather her Bible and head for the park. She no longer drove her car but took the bus. She was lucky that the bus dropped her off only a short distance from the park, because she was slow and moved with great effort. She had lost a lot of weight.
She loved sitting in the park watching the children play. Her favorite passage in the Bible was, "Bring the little children to me for the Kingdom of God belongs to little ones such as these." She prayed silently for the children around her. She was filled with such faith that she no longer thought of herself or her selfish need for men. She dwelled on the things of God and prayed. Gradually she was drawn back to the thoughts and knowledge she had had about Jesus when she was younger. She yearned for Him as much as she had yearned for men, but not with the same desperate passion. It was something holy.
One morning before going to her treatment, she heard the bells of St. Paul ringing. It must be a Mass, she thought, and she got up and went to the church. Most of the people received Holy Communion. She did not. She knew she had been cleansed, but now she was ready to practice her Catholicism as she had learned it. She would seek the priest to confess her sins.
Father Jimmy seemed young to her, about twenty years old, with a baby face but she knew Jesus was with her, guiding her in the path that would lead her to God. She had made the appointment and now was the moment of truth as Father Jimmy greeted her with a smile and a firm handshake. The room was not an office but a small parlor. There were oil paintings on the wall and three antique chairs arranged comfortably near each
other. The floor had a tan carpet. There was a crucifix at the entrance of the room above the doorway. The ivory drapes at the window were elegant. It was quiet and soothing. Father Jimmy had chosen to make the appointment for her confession.
"Welcome, Miriam," he said.
"Thank you, Father."
"Would you like to talk first?"
"I thought confession is talking with each other," she said.
"Very well, please sit here." He sat down almost in front of her and, leaning forward a little, he looked down and waited.
"I am thirty-six years old, single and have led a loose life, gratifying myself completely. I have experienced lust and done many shameful things that defy normal sexual behavior. I have devoted my life to rejecting God because I felt no need to love him or seek him in any way. I am a heathen. Now I'm dying and I am sorry I have wasted my time on earth. I would like to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, because I feel the need to communicate with him. I feel a holy desire for him. Not the desire I felt for men, but the need for spiritual strength. I know he can give it to me."
"Your confession is sincere, Miriam," Father Jimmy said. "I know you have changed your life, not because you have cancer, but because you have been touched by God. Remember what Jesus said, ‘No one can come to me unless my Father in heaven sends him.' Because you are experiencing spiritual renewal, you have come to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I absolve you of all your sins in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Go in peace."
Miriam felt her burden lifted. She even felt well for a few weeks. However, the cancer soon spread and ate away at her muscles and bones. She grew weaker and refused the radiation treatments because she was tired. Rose, an elderly volunteer at the Center, visited her occasionally and took her to Mass. To receive Holy Communion was her energy and her strength. But she was dying.
Father Jimmy found a convent where she could spend her last days. Some retired nuns who were nurses lived on the outskirts of Temple and agreed to care for her. She felt comfort knowing that she would spend her last days in the company of holy women.
It was a sunny day and clouds formed animals in the sky. Miriam, sitting in a wheelchair in the garden, looked up and cried. She was afraid. Death was near. Three nuns took her to bed and she lay there sobbing sorrowfully for a long time. They did not leave her alone. She opened her eyes, which welled up with tears at the thought of Simon, but she did not cry because of him, but for him. She felt sorry that he had not understood her. She closed her eyes and saw a white light in her mind. "What is this?" she asked. The sisters realized she was in agony. "What is this?" she asked again though her eyes were closed. She heard a whisper, "It is I."
In her dream she contemplated the light for a long time. Then she asked, "Have you come for me?"
"Yes," he answered.
"Yes, it is I."
In her final dream she saw a man in a white garment. She knelt and reached out and touched his dazzling cloak and kissed it. Then she stood up facing him. He reached for her hand and she took it, standing side by side with him. "Miriam, your faith has saved you. Come with me into my kingdom."
Then she stopped breathing. By the touch of his cloak she was healed of her afflictions and her soul was free forever.