62: It Is Well

62: It Is Well

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

It Is Well

Spiritual force is greater than material force — thoughts rule the world.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Paul Carmine and I met when I first started with IBM. We worked together, off and on, for more than twenty-five years. He was my colleague, my boss, my mentor, and my friend.

Paul was a manager with the company, and, in 2001, he recruited me into his department. We tackled challenging assignments side by side. When a project was completed, Paul was quick to laud me for a job well done.

Paul nurtured my career in a way that no other manager had. He encouraged, even badgered, me to pursue the position of Senior Technical Staff Member (STSM), a distinguished advancement in IBM. “Finish all the work I give you, then stay up nights to pull that STSM certification packet together,” he kidded.

For six months, I pored over the STSM submission. Behind the scenes, Paul sang my praises to company executives, and likely called in some favors, in order to garner the sponsors I needed. When I earned the STSM appointment, Paul took me out for a celebratory lunch.

Paul and I shared many lunches through the years. Over good food, we brainstormed about problems at work and did a bit of griping. We told jokes and laughed about our children’s antics.

IBM awarded us both with a trip to Palm Springs. Paul brought his oldest son along to join in the fun. During the day, there were cable car rides up Mount San Jacinto and bicycle treks. At night, we had dinner together. Paul’s son was kind, just like his father. He would regale us with tales of his filmmaking studies. As he spoke, I noticed Paul smiling with pride.

Paul had a knack for balancing work and family. He was equally a diligent manager and a loving husband and father. I, on the other hand, had trouble striking a balance and was known to put in seventy-hour weeks. Paul would chide me for my work obsession. “You need to cut back on your overtime,” he told me. “Enjoy life!”

“I’ll try,” I assured him.

About a year ago, Paul telephoned me. His voice sounded somber, and I knew something was wrong. “I have a suspicious growth on my thyroid,” he said. “My doctor ordered a biopsy.”

“I’m sure everything will be fine,” I said. I hung up the phone and said a silent prayer that the test would be negative.

Paul and I met for a meal several days later. His voice was raspy from the procedure, but I could still detect his relief. “It’s benign,” he said. This would be another celebratory lunch.

Just two weeks passed when Paul contacted me to say he hadn’t felt well since the biopsy. He had been suffering pains in his abdomen. The doctors performed a full battery of tests. “I’ve been diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer,” he said quietly. “I’m going to retire immediately and spend time with my family.”

I sat stunned. “I’ll keep you in my prayers,” I said.

Soon after, Paul’s oldest son e-mailed to let me know that his dad had been hospitalized.

“I want to go see him in the hospital,” I told my wife.

But Paul died before I could visit. I hugged my wife and said, “I never got the chance to say goodbye.”

The morning of Paul’s funeral, my wife was preparing breakfast. She loves to sing as she does her chores. She buttered bread and sang:

 

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

“That is a beautiful hymn,” I told her. “I’ve never heard it before.”

“I haven’t sung it in years,” she said. “It just popped into my head.”

That evening, Paul’s church was overflowing with mourners. During his eulogy, the pastor told us how bravely Paul had faced death, “Paul knew that he would see Christ in heaven.”

The pastor said that in Paul’s last days, he was in and out of consciousness. One afternoon, he opened his eyes and muttered, “It is well.” The pastor patted his hand, “Yes, Paul, all is well.” Paul shook his head no.

“I finally deciphered what Paul wanted,” said the pastor. “Would you please all stand and sing Paul’s chosen hymn?”

The lyrics scrolled on the screen behind the altar: “When peace, like a river, attendeth my soul...”

I looked at my wife in amazement. It was the same hymn she had sung that morning.

She smiled and whispered, “Paul found a way to say goodbye to you.”

~John E. Miller as told to Marie-Therese Miller

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