It started with my period. I had an inkling that I was somehow related to the universe because how else would the moon have had a direct line to my ovaries? Every twenty-eight days, like clockwork, with accuracy rivaling Big Ben, these two entities – my eggs and Benny – would be in precise and direct communication. Blood brothers they were. Or was it Sister and Brother?
Now, years later, when I tried to explain these celestial occurrences to my college roommate Roberta, she said I was turning into a Woodstock “woo-woo” and would soon be running braless on campus. These collegiate putdowns silenced any intimations of immortality for many decades to come. My roommate was a political science major mired in realpolitik.
So I just went around for years doing earthly things, gathering and spending and toiling, and focusing on rising in the corporate world – giving little attention to the wonder of my chance placement under the magic pull of the stars and the heavens.
But one day, several years ago, I was minding my own business when suddenly a searing sharp pain pierced my right side, forcing me to crawl and scream. On my gurney-foxhole I may even have prayed to God for the pain to stop, though the latter salutation may be revisionist thinking.
Rushed to the E.R., Child-Doctors pierced and X-rayed my crumpled self, revealing angry stones lodged in an organ I had never paid any attention to, a tiny little spiteful thing called a gallbladder that was angrily erupting between my liver and my pancreas.
Two days later, some forty-eight stones were delivered to my hospital bed where I lay in a stupor. Dr. Morrissey, one of the few remaining “doctors of yore,” cared, smiled and held my hand reassuringly and tightly. He said the green vomitus would recede and life without bile would return. He presented me a urine cup with a green tight lid, labeled, “48 Precious Stones: Sheila Nevins’ Gallstones.” Touched by this handwritten cup, yet in a haze, the significance of the gift eluded me.
Some twenty-four hours later, pain and gallbladder were ancient history and I was ready for a pastrami sandwich with hot mustard. I was also primed to appreciate my gift. I opened the urine vial and there they were, glittering pebbles, nature pebbles, outdoor pebbles from inside of me, forty-eight of them, matching exactly the millions of pebbles, placed all over the courtyard in my house in the country. Now I could accept this pebble-match as a mere simple nature finding. Yet I gasped and cried and, waxing poetic, I sobbed to my husband that I was a spiritual being, part of the universe. “Just look at my stones!” This dearest of men was more than relieved to relinquish me to this newfound universe, having nursed me back to health (I am not a good patient), after a week of exhaustive nursing.
But yesterday came the spiritual pièce de résistance. Owing to my increasing anxiety and workload and panic over what I believed was an imminent heart stoppage, I did what my sweet internist, Dr. Katz suggested – an echocardiogram. This would be a test to calm my jitters and prove that the end was not near. I did what he said. Staring at the ceiling of the examination room I had suddenly entered my own Sistine Chapel. The stone-faced technician allowed me to listen to the symphony of the chambers of my brave heart. I could hear its heart-wrenching beat.
With false bravado, I asked this conductor for a clue to my terminal diagnosis. “Could I run the marathon?” I asked him. “With practice,” he answered without giving a glimmer of hope. A man trained to be passive-aggressive.
But oh the sound I heard from my heart – the last supper of my own song, my heart was beautiful. Musical sunshine from quadrant to quadrant, quatrains of whales and oceans and birds and me. A quartet of chambers worthy of a sellout at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall.
Assured that my heart was alive and well by my doctor, I breathed easily and returned home that fateful evening to announce to my skeptical family that I had discovered my spiritual self. “I am a whole person,” I bellowed dramatically. “I believe that I am part of the natural world from my period to my gallstones, to my sonorous heartbeat.”
Nonplussed, my son replied, “Please Mom, don’t get carried away.” And I simply passed the mashed potatoes.