“Persist, My Friend”

On January 20, 2011, Reynolds Price died from complications of a heart attack. He was 77.

In April 1997 Price received a letter from Jim Fox who had read Price’s memoir, A Whole New Life, his story of the 1984 diagnosis of spinal cord cancer, which caused paralysis of his legs, placing him in a wheelchair. Jim Fox, a young medical student who experienced his own cancer diagnosis, read the memoir, and asked Price, “Does God exist, and does he care?” Their correspondence was brief because Fox died soon after, but Price’s answer to him was published as Letter to a Man in the Fire.

            In August of 2001 I suffered an injury that, like Price, caused paralysis of my legs. During my rehab I experienced a myriad of emotions and a deep sense of loss. I suffered, but received great care from  the hospital staff, family, and friends. But, I had so much to learn at the age of 55: Incontinence. How to manage the purple wheelchair. Dependency for many matters. The loss of long, morning runs with Jay and Caleb. Loss loomed and frightened me. However, one night I woke to a warm, calming light that appeared at my face and out of it a sweet, kind voice told me not to worry, that everything would be okay.

            In his answer to Fox, Price writes: “Starting on a warm afternoon in the summer of 1939, …I’ve experienced moments of sustained calm awareness that subsequent questioning has never discounted. Those moments, which recurred at unpredictable and widely space intervals till some thirteen years ago, still seem to me undeniable manifestations of the Creator’s benign or patiently watchful interest in particular stretches of my life, though perhaps not all of it.”

            The light and voice I experienced was not, I knew, a dream. It was real, but I kept my experience close, and only shared it with Reynolds Price in a phone call. His response was, “Why, Roger, you had a visitation.” Shortly after our conversation, I received a copy of Letters in which Price had inscribed, “Persist, my friend.”

            Price– the North Carolina novelist, poet, scholar of Milton, teacher at Duke, Rhodes Scholar, cancer victim, had used the best word, a simple verb that expressed the perfect attitude that only a good writer who was surviving a cancer, could. His choice of persist came out of his struggle with cancer,  but also out of his experiences like that of the summer day in 1939.

            Price, a student of religions, especially the Gospels, draws on literature, several religions and beliefs, and his own faith to answer Jim Fox’s question concerning God and His involvement in our lives. Yet, and perhaps of my own experience from the fall of 2001, I return over and over to Price’s words,” I’ve experienced moments of sustained calm awareness that subsequent questioning has never discounted….”

            That is, for me, a complete explanation of God’s presence in our lives. If we believe and listen we will persist.

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