“I’ll probably read Luke, Chapter Eight, before I see the doctor,” Emma told me a few weeks ago before she went in for lung cancer testing. “Hey, if my number’s up, it’s up. I’ve learned not to worry about things I can’t control.”
As she struggled to get up from her chair to get a tissue box from her kitchen counter, she fought back the obvious pain in her back and half-laughed. “Look at me; I’m a question mark that’s falling apart.”
At eighty years of age, Emma hasn’t been able to stand up straight in almost a decade. Numerous surgeries have wreaked havoc on her posture, curling her shoulders and hunching her back so that she awkwardly stoops forward when she moves about her home in a tiny town thirty-five miles north of Tulsa.
“But this…” she said, tapping her fingers on a half-century-old bible, “is what makes me tall. The bible gives me faith and that’s what is important.”
Emma is a student of the bible; she reads it in its entirety each year. “It points me in the right direction, especially now with my illnesses.”
In addition to her back and shoulder problems, Emma has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which is one of the most common lung diseases. It makes it very difficult for her to breathe. Despite her coughing and shortness of breath, Emma and I talked about everything from poetry to college basketball. She recalled her days as a tomboy, senior class president and school bus driver.
When we met again just the other day, Emma told me she had tested positive for lung cancer. But before I could say anything, she began reciting: “Life is real, life is earnest. Let us, then, be up and doing, with a heart for any fate. Still achieving, still pursuing, learning to labor and to wait.”
Gesturing for me to have a seat at her kitchen table, she said, “That’s from Longfellow. A Psalm of Life.”
Emma sat down next to me, spread open the morning newspaper to the men’s basketball tournament pairings and said, “So, I still have some living to do and more than enough time for March Madness.”
With a nod, I glanced down at the brackets to study the match-ups more closely. As I smoothed out the sports section, I felt a bump underneath the newspaper. It was Emma’s bible.
Smiling, she rested her hand on it and said, “You know, this little book is likely to pop up just about anywhere.”