May 24, 2024 Paige Nolan

Keep Your Appointments

Earlier this month, my friend Caroline’s older brother, Chad, died of a heart attack, unexpectedly, at the age of 47.

This week, I traveled to San Antonio, Texas, to celebrate Chad’s life and to stand by my friend Caroline – as she takes her first steps into a version of her life she never imagined she would have to live so soon, a version of life – especially family life – she would rather not know.

Chad was a big presence – he lived large, he loved adventure, he traveled the world, climbed mountains and played lead guitar in rock bands – founded his own medical technology company – and fulfilled his role of “Uncle Chad” to Caroline’s children (+ so many of his friends’ children) with pure devotion and fun. He offered that kind of boundless love every child deserves to know, the kind of love that marks a child’s heart forever.

And the heart he may have marked the most is Caroline’s – as it is Chad’s stem cell donation that saved Caroline’s life as a younger woman seeking treatment for a relentless cancer. So rare, to be a perfect match with a sibling – Chad made it possible for Caroline to become a mother. I get the sense that the bond between those kids and Chad extended beyond the family tree – and was something shared on a cellular level. The connection between Chad and Caroline certainly a love shared on a soul level.

I arrived to San Antonio the night before the Celebration of Life service and went to Caroline’s home where many people – family, friends and neighbors – were gathered. I’ve known Caroline for 18 years but I had never been to her hometown and I had never met the people she references so often. I moved slowly through the crowd, meeting people, connecting how people were connected and placing faces with the stories I had heard from Caroline over the years. It was not unlike the feeling of finally getting your iPhone to click into portrait mode and the picture you seek is clearly in focus – press the button – this is Caroline’s history, this is her life now, this is Caroline centered – sad but smiling – surrounded by the soft presence of the people who have loved her and her family for always.

This is Caroline arriving to her divine appointment.

From across the patio, I see my friend Shan – she has also flown in from Los Angeles for this event. Shan, Caroline and I met at a dog park in Los Angeles before we had kids. We spent every morning – from 6:30 AM to 7:30 AM – for over two years standing in a field (with our other two friends, Chris + Ann) while our dogs chased each other.

It was such a beautiful time in our lives, a sliver of simplicity in the morning – that offered each of us exactly what we needed to start the day.

It was a divine appointment that we kept with each other –
a channel for community and connection when we needed it most.

We have tracked each other through these years: new homes, career changes, health challenges, babies, toddlers and now teens, deaths, breakups, world travels, creative projects, and maybe the greatest bond between us – the continued love for our dogs – the ones past + the new ones – 9 between just the three of us.
When the party thins out and there are only a few guests remaining, I ask Caroline to show me the upstairs of her home. I love to see where my friends live the private parts of their lives and take those images with me when I leave. We land in Caroline’s daughter’s room with two of Caroline’s best friends from high school and a beautiful conversation about grief and our attempts to make sense of the harsh reality of death.

And then, it is the three of us again – and Caroline’s beloved pug, Axl – and we talk about prayer. How does one pray? Are you comfortable praying for a specific outcome? What if that is not the outcome delivered, does that mean God (if one even prays to a God) is not listening? Are there prayers that are a waste of time – like peace of mind in the throes of sorrow, like acceptance in the face of the unbelievable – is that even possible for some sort of God/Source/Universe energy to answer that prayer?

We don’t know the answers. But each of us engages some version of prayer.

I pray for divine appointments.

May I encounter an unseen force for Love that ennobles my courage, may you meet an unseen force for Good that strengthens your faith. May we keep our divine appointments with each other – so we can believe in the best of this place.

Loss changes us. Grief changes the course of our lives. And there is no life without loss.

There is no love without grief.

I don’t just mean losing people – I mean we lose our innocence, we have to let go of illusions, we have to face our fears and let ourselves be changed by the heartache of it all.

I don’t think there’s a prayer one could pray to be saved from loss.

Though, I have found a prayer to be said amidst the pain of loss we will, and do, feel:

May I show up for the life that wants to be lived through me now.

And it could just mean walking the dog to the corner and back. That counts. That’s life. In fact, that dog is a divine appointment you are keeping.

Dogs are some of the best divine appointments around.

So are strangers, and conversations with old friends and art classes. I’ve witnessed people show up to their divine appointments with meditation and sunsets and cold showers and practicing yoga and finally starting to write the book they want to write. People have divine appointments with cooking and books and quitting jobs and finding a mentor. When airplane flights are delayed or trips are canceled, we have a divine appointment with unexpected time at home – that oddly feels like a gift even though we live at home.

We have divine appointments with our children’s favorite teacher, and the neighbor down the street who recommends a physical therapist. I live with a man who is showing up for his divine appointment with the piano, which only came his way after his father passed a few years ago – and like Caroline, he was asked to live a version of his life he would rather not know so soon.

Divine appointments are a part of our everyday life – we are surrounded by these opportunities all of the time. They are not only for the grieving. They are for the seeking. They are for those of us who wish to be alive while we are still living. They are for you and they are for me – and we are each other’s divine appointments.

In that bedroom, a few days ago, Shan and I and Axl – we were Caroline’s comfort. We were support for her and we were there as she reached to make sense of something as mysterious as sudden death.

We kept our appointment with her.
I don’t know what will come Caroline’s way to help heal her pain – but I know it will be something or someone.

At the very least, she has an appointment with hope – an idea that has captivated her since her determination to live well through the times she has not felt well.

This is what I believe. This is what I trust.

Maybe hope is the ultimate appointment each of us must keep. I’m not sure how you are someone’s hope this week – but I like to believe you are. And I pray you keep that appointment.