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  • Writer's pictureTerry Pace

To Those in the Limbo of Illness

By May Sarton (appears in The Silence Now 1988)

You who have been here before,

Waiting.

Not knowing.

Not living,

Not dying

Waiting

Waiting

While hope, the open wound,

Bleeds

Its life-giving

Life-exhausting

Blood.

In this limbo

Must love

Become an arc?

For the arc,

It has come to me,

Transcends

What it embraces.


May Sarton (RIP 1912-1995) was an American poet and novelist. Sarton often wrote of aging, illness and death, but always as a dynamic interplay with beauty, thankfulness and hope. This poem, about illness is a great example of her work where amidst the exhaustion and limbo of illness is found transcendence, fidelity and love. The poem has such a presence to it in those long moments of waiting, but the waiting and pain are embraced and transcended by love. The rainbow is a nearly universal symbol of such abiding and transforming love. Though illness may wreck our bodies and death will come to us all, love arcs, surrounds and lifts us up from this earthly life. The photo I added here was taken by me in May of 2008 from our front porch, just when my wife was emerging from the trauma of cancer treatment, in the midst of grief over my mom passing away, my father-in-law being very ill and the joy and wistfulness of our oldest daughter graduating high school. It was a time of so much change, but God's rainbow appeared and gave us a hopeful, renewed spirit as we were also encircled in the love of friends and family. Right now in April 2020 with the Covid-19 pandemic raging, we must all embrace love by being smart, keeping physical distance to limit virus spread but staying connected in love to others; showing our thanks to those on the front lines of this battle and trying to add light into the world at a time of darkness. Sarton's poetry is well suited to helping those of us so inclined as she explores the emotional world of illness and grief and the power of love and faith.

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