BILL: LOVE AS PRESENCE
He who has love is in God, and God is in him, for God is love. Leo Tolstoi, What Men Live By
One Saturday afternoon in April of 1953 my
Amherst College blind date Jack asked his fraternity brother Bill Bauer to give him a ride to to pick me up. As I slipped into the front seat (in the days when three people could sit in the front seat of a car), I looked at Bill, he smiled, and it is not an exaggeration to say that I fell in love. I can still recall the image of that smile and the instantaneous love, “sweeping like a gentle tide” over me. It was made up partially of physical attraction of course, and perhaps over the years I’ve exaggerated the feeling, but the Presence was there, not the numinous awe felt in grand cathedrals, but still the mysterium tremendum. “Some enchanted evening, you will see a stranger, you will see a stranger across a crowded Ford front seat.” Mount Holyoke College
From then, fifty-seven years ago, we lived our lives together, were married fifty-four, raised three children, and jointly created the home we lived in for 44 years. How could we be separated in any meaningful way? How could we not inhabit the same patch of history even now after he has died?
On a few occasions when Bill and I made love, I had the experience of being “no more twain, but one flesh,” a mystical ecstasy combined with the sexual. “What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
Mysterium tremendum: It may burst in sudden eruption up from the depths of the soul with spasms and convulsions, or lead to the strangest excitements, to intoxicated frenzy, to transport, and to ecstasy. Rudolf Otto
In January 2007 a series of medical disasters began to befall Bill: first a broken arm, then a stroke, a diagnosis of severe COPD and lung cancer, three bouts of pneumonia, five skin cancer operations, dense cataracts. The fact that some day he was going to die was forcibly brought home to me.
In June of that year, he had the lung cancer removed. Because of the stroke and COPD, the surgeon warned that it would be iffy. “But it’s the best chance you have.” The morning of the operation, the surgeon and the anesthetist came into Bill’s room to talk to him, our son, and me. The anesthetist had done extensive tests, examined him again in the room, and said to Dr. Peters, “I don’t think we should go through with the operation.” The surgeon said, “It’s the only chance he has.” Sitting with my son, waiting for the operation to be over, I imagined Dr. Peters performing that delicate surgery, the courage it must have taken because he knew it was dangerous. Then we saw Bill being wheeled to the Intensive Care Unit, several nurses and orderlies running, one holding the IV post, one at the back, pushing the bed. That nurse looked back at us, a big smile on her face, and hollered, “He’s breathing on his own.”
In that moment of pure joy, I felt an intense veneration--veneration is not too strong a word--for the astonishing ability that Dr. Peters had been given and not only that but gratitude that he cared.
A little while later he and his resident surgeon came out to talk to us. They too had big smiles as if they had accomplished something tremendous. The cancer was small, contained, they had only to take out one lobe. The surgeon’s brother is a priest, and there’s a story, apocryphal perhaps, that their mother had slotted Dr. Peters to be the priest, and Father Peters to be the surgeon.