This has been a weird week.
First, I find out that one of my best friends has lung cancer. He's never smoked a day in his life. His name is Tom. Tom believes there are four rules to life; 1) Do everything with passion and joy, 2) Never give up, 3) Never look back in anger or regret, and 4) Surround yourself with people who practice the same rules.
Just weeks after Tom is diagnosed with the Big C, he stumbles into the greatest love of his life. Her name is Maria. Tom and Maria meet in one of those totally weird ways that keep us believing in miracles; too many serendipitous coincidences and connections to possibly believe it's an accident.
Maria's house burns down in a raging brush fire a month before meeting Tom.
Tom says to Maria in his thick Scottish accent, "You've got to meet my friend Marley. He'll design you a home to be proud of for sure. Marley's one of those guys who lives by my four rules."
Tom calls Marley and tells him the story of meeting Maria and how, together, they're going to beat the Big C.
"Marley, you've got to meet my girl Maria. She's unbelievable, everything to me! You'll love her, you will. She wants to hire you to design and build her new home at Hell's Gate."
"Hell's Gate? Where the hell is Hell's Gate?"
(This is Hell's Gate on Possum Kingdom Lake in North Texas)
Marley meets Maria with Tom. It's like meeting one person with four arms and four legs but one body. A few minutes into talking about what Maria wants in a home, Marley says, "OK. It's done. The home's already designed itself. I'll show you what it wants to be, provided you name the home something particular."
Maria with Tom attached, lean forward.
"Heaven's Gate", Marley reveals. "You name your new home Heaven's Gate."
"Agreed," Maria squeezes Tom's hand, never flinching.
"Every time a boat passes through Hell's Gate", Marley prophesizes, "people will look up the mountain and they will witness the bridge you build together. People will have heard the story of how one tower is the House of Tom. The other tower is the House of Maria.
The arching bridge that connects you two is symbolic of your love and your life together.
The bridge is your living room and dining room and kitchen and below the arch, shaded and protected, is your living outdoors. There's your barbecue and hot tub and your pool with an infinity edge cascading down the ravine to the lake."
"Heaven's Gate", Maria looks at Tom. Tom tears up and swears as only Scottish men can swear.
I said this has been a weird week.
We're set to meet at Hell's Gate Friday. Contracts are written. Understandings are reached. Excruciating excitement pumps in everybody's veins. We all know something extraordinary is happening.
Twelve fifteen in the morning, Marley wakes up with chest pains. Nothing new, but this time his left arm really hurts and the left side of his left palm and little finger are numb.
The weird pain lasts fifteen minutes, and then Marley falls back asleep.
At five after five the phone rings. Appliances are being delivered to a construction site.
Marley has to drive over and open the garage. It's dark and cold and his hand and finger are still numb. The appliances arrive an hour later. Marley waits and helps the crew unload.
The numbness in his hand is bothersome enough to say, "Ah, why not? I can grab breakfast at the same time." Marley drives a couple of miles to the emergency clinic. It's closed.
Marley insists, "It's nothing," and starts to drive home. A shadow darts across to the left in the early morning fog. Marley anticipates the sound that comes from his right a split second before the deer pummels into the right side of his car. Smack! The mirror is gone.
Wind rushes around the imploded door panel.
Marley's heart skips a beat, sprints a short distance and the pain is there again, just a little pain but enough pain that he calls his doctor.
"Turn your ass around right now and drive to the hospital. You can drive, right?"
"Sure doc. It's no big deal, just kind of weird feeling, you know."
"Drive. Call me when they're done with the tests."
Marley calls his doctor thirty minutes later.
"All's cool. EKG; nothing abnormal. Blood work; same thing. Emergency doc thought I should hang around for twenty-four hours. Made me sign a waiver when I told her I had a super cool design gig tomorrow and that no matter what, I was going. Told her that 'if it's my time to go, I'll go doing what I love most.' Don't think she quite understands, but I know you do."
The doctor asks, "Marley, if I can get you in to see a specialist, today, will you listen to him? He might pick something up if there's anything there to pick up."
"Sure. OK. I'll do that."
This specialist comes into town only one day per week. He's always booked solid. But he agrees to see Marley as a favor to Marley's doctor. The specialist orders the same tests.
EKG and blood work come back normal. Marley lays the same lame story on the specialist.
"These are the kind of design gigs that come along only once in a very long time. You know what I mean."
The doctor gets Marley to slow down a word or two. "Tell me again how you feel."
"I feel fine except for this sort-of numbness in my left hand and little finger."
The doctor says, "Stay put just a moment, OK? I have a picture here somewhere I want to show you." He goes out of the examining room and returns not fifteen seconds later. He shows Marley what's obviously a picture of somebody's heart.
"You're an architect. You'll see it. Show me what I'm going to show you."
Marley looks at the picture and points.
"Yeah, right here. Major blockage."
"Marley, this guy passed his EKG. His blood work came back perfect, like yours. Last Saturday I stuck a cath up his leg and found what you're looking at. I put a stint in his heart and now he's home enjoying life. You sure you want to wait until next week to take a peek?"
Marley tries to think of a worthwhile argument. He can't. Marley picks up his phone and calls Maria. He doesn't like changing plans with clients.
"Would it be OK to move our appointment to Saturday or even Sunday?" Marley explains his situation to Maria and to his friend Tom.
"Of course," Maria and Tom offer. "Are you kidding? Go take care of yourself. Our business can wait."
Marley still finds it amazing how true friends understand.
Marley's semi-awake-not-quite-comatose as the catheter snakes up from his ready-for-a-Speedo-shaved groin through his aorta and into his heart. The specialist is explaining how Marley might feel things weird a little bit. Marley does feel things like so many worms wiggling into the skin of his heart, totally weird and creepy.
From the misty meanderings of his thoughts and his incessant joking with the surgical staff through the blaring banging of the Dooby Brothers, Marley hears the specialist, "Ha! Right there! Gotcha baby! Hey Marley! If you're listening dude, ninety-five percent blocked buddy, ninety five friggin' percent blocked!"
The thought sounds strangely benevolent as Marley feels another worm squiggle then snuggle for a stint in his heart.
The next morning, Marley's wife Lynn calls everybody on their list. "He's doing fine. He says he feels like he's eighteen again. Yeah, right. I know. Watch out."
Like I said, it's been a weird week.
Tom's fighting cancer. Tom stumbles into the love of his life. Maria finds the love of her life.
Maria's house burns down in a wild brush fire. Maria needs a new home. Tom knows Marley.
Marley narrowly misses a heart attack because a deer that has no business being downtown decides to commit suicide against the side of Marley's car, causing Marley to question, barely, the pain in his heart and the numbness in his left hand and little finger. The heart specialist just happens to be in town on the only day Marley will agree to slow down long enough to let him take a peek into the wonderfully complex and almost creepy world of wacky serendipity.
Ninety five percent blockage: Marley's Hell's Gate. Stint in Marley's artery: Marley's Heaven's Gate.
It's been a weird week, yes.
But it's been a week where Tom's Four Rules rule:
1) Do everything with passion and joy, 2) Never give up, 3) Never look back in anger or regret, and 4) Surround yourself with people who practice the same rules.
Weird weeks like this come along rarely.
Rarely do we realize how wonderfully weird life is.
Marley's going to try and listen more to the goings-on in his heart.
Maria is going to build her Heaven's Gate with Tom.
Tom's going to pass through his Hell's Gate and beat cancer through his constant outrageous laughter and unending giddy-kid joy. Tom will never give up and he'll never look back in anger at anything. This is why he'll win.
That we might all do as Tom always does. That we might surround ourselves with people of like mind and heart. That we might wake up and witness what wonderful little miracles wiggle into our lives and under our skin.
Again, this is my prayer this Monday.