The light from the noonday sun had now covered half of Lyle’s body as he laid there in his hospital room all alone. With IVs pumping him with the fight of his life, all he could do was rest. His was the last room on the right. With rays of sun now piercing the inside of Lyle’s room, the multiple columns of windows came to life. It was as if they had been transformed into something that “felt” more like that of the stained-glass windows one would find in some ancient cathedral.
Oddly enough, as the light slowly crawled it’s way across the room, it seemed to have stalled out halfway across Lyle’s body.
Perhaps in this, the other half had been, all along, waiting for my arrival as I was quickly greeted with his familiar and contagious smile.
For a brief moment, I recalled a small ceramic picture of the sun that hung in the hallway of my childhood home. It was never discussed or mentioned. It just hung there waiting for someone to notice. It was a plaque with a quote by J.M. Barrie that read, “Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.” No wonder the rays of sun that were filling up the room had so patiently waited.
Lyle was in the hospital to fight off pneumonia. Having recently had a treatment to shut down his immune system in an effort to prolong his battle with rare disease, every breath was a battlefield of its own. What landed him in Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, Oregon though, was a hole they had found in one of his lungs. Six years of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis had taken its toll. Now with 17% lung capacity, every moment mattered.
At 25, Lyle has his whole life ahead of him play out in every breath he takes. If each breath we took was our whole life playing out ahead of us, how much more appreciation, purpose, and humility would we dare give it? If our future is contingent on each breath, then nothing we’ve ever been given was guaranteed. How now shall we live?
Sitting bedside, Lyle spoke with much effort. I felt guilty having him expend any extra energy on my account to carry on a conversation. When I had mentioned that to Lyle, he quickly said, albeit with his soul searing smile, “What else am I going to do?”
At some point, our conversation moved to his tattoos.
Facing a choice as to what he wanted to get inked onto his right inner forearm, what Lyle decided on would soon become his rudder for life. With the kind of prophetic foresight that paves clear paths for future travel, Lyle decided on four words that only now, in retrospect, can be seen for what they’ve been, and still are.
The words “Only God Knows When” have become more than a mantra, but also signposts that have been strategically planted along the way that would guide his every move. They would also serve as a constant reminder. And it is where these words have been permanently tattooed on Lyle’s arm, that now served as ground zero for the IVs that were so desperately and methodically waging war on the pneumonia. This was an attack that seeks the dark of night. Yet with Lyle’s smile, one simply can’t hide the sun. And for certain, not even from himself.
Lyle is a man at peace and this makes him dangerous. Life is too short to live otherwise. Besides, don’t we all need a little more sunshine?
Twice before, Lyle had been told that he was going to spiral down and die. And each time, he believed it and got depressed. For his rare disease, it is so rare in people his age that there aren’t many others to actually compare his condition with. Everything seemed like an educated best guess on behalf of the doctors. But for Lyle, it was when he began to know and trust that doctors didn’t know everything, and that instead, it was actually God who knew everything, that things began to change.
For Lyle, he doesn’t need to spend his time worried about the when, because he has already made peace with the whenever. To him, his only focus is on shining the light within and being the lifter of heads with every breath, until his final breath.
As I said goodbye and began the long walk back to my car, something had changed in me over the course of the past 45 minutes I had spent with Lyle in his hospital room. Now walking with my head actually held high, I had newfound hope. And, I finally made sense of that plaque that hung in the hallway of my childhood home.
How now shall I live? Only God Knows When.
Let your light so shine, my friend.
When you do, you won’t be able to keep it from yourself. Make peace, know self, trust God, live on purpose, love others, and be dangerous.
You can’t hide the sun.
Ps. As I write these thoughts, Lyle is back home and resting. And with a smile upon his face, he continues to fight.