It’s Sunday afternoon, and from the voice on the other end of the line, I can tell that my hospitalized curmudgeon friend is practically cheery today—even with a big diagnostic procedure looming tomorrow.

His wife texts me how thrilled he is to learn that his new hospital roommate used to work for their favorite NFL team, and that he’s been able to connect one of his nurses with the local Labrador Retriever rescue organization. He also knows that his son is headed home to give Mom a spell by throwing himself into some rough yard play with their two Lab rescues, their grizzled old doggie and the bounding pup they recently adopted.

Not an expert on Labs, but this pair have but two settings: Full Speed and Off, as pictured here.

I texted her that it sounds like God just sent some angels their way. In canine and human form, they can help us feel “loved and chosen,” as Kate Bowler puts it. We’ve met her here in previous posts. I don’t listen to a lot of podcasts, but I never regret checking to see what the cancer surviving author and Duke Divinity School prof is up to. 

At a book signing event in Florida three years ago, a man stopped by to see what I was peddling. It had been, shall I say, a light turnout, so it’s not like he had to wait in a long line or anything. Copies of my book about teaching and learning crowded the table where I stood in the Tampa bookstore. He’d popped in after a monthly lunch with fellow former professors, so we kind of hit if off quickly. Answering his questions about Open Admissions opened him up to tell me about his work and also about a book he’d just read. After we’d happily chatted for a half-hour, he bought a copy of my memoir, which I gladly signed, then bid him goodbye and thanked him for doubling my sales for the day.

When I’d packed up my unsold books, ready to head to the airport, I felt an arm on my shoulder. My fellow teacher handed me a copy of the book he’d raved about, Kate Bowler’s Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved “If you like it, you can tell others about it,” he said.

I started reading it on the flight, and Ms. Bowler has been on my radar ever since. Talk about the kindness of strangers!

Her podcast a couple of weeks ago included an interview with another author I admire, Anne Lamott, author of Traveling Mercies, Bird by Bird, and others.

This weekend, thinking about my sick pal, I listened again to Kate and Anne’s dialogue.

Author Kate Bowler

Diagnosed at age 35 with Stage IV cancer, Kate Bowler has survived plenty in her life and is committed to writing about what you might call earned takeaways. She also seems to share a magnetic connection with other creative artists who mine the pain and joy of life. “Life is a chronic condition,” she says to Lamott, “and there’s no cure for being human.”

Author Anne Lamott

One line after another in the interview seems to apply to my friend’s situation. Anne Lamott offers, “Laughter is carbonated holiness.” 

I picture my buddy’s wife looking out the window and guffawing at her son and a pair of romping dogs—a blessed respite from worry. I see my friend smiling and chuckling with his new hospital roommate about beloved football players and coaches.

I’m glad and not surprised that my friends’ son is stepping up. Who knows what unexpected learning may come to him from this family health challenge. I remember another line from Lamott: “You take the action, and the insight follows.”  

In Bowler’s interview last week with actor Matthew McConnaghy, they talked about the importance of certain stories in our lives, even ones that technically fall short of the truth. Telling our shared stories is part of how we help one another, always has been, always will be.

Actor/Author Matthew McConnaghy

Listening to these two oddly kindred souls probe what I would call different ways of seeing again sent my thoughts back to people who must face all kinds of unexpected things, especially in our Age of COVIDity.

Angels and ordinary beings. They’re here in all sorts of forms, but we don’t always want to admit that we can and should include them in our struggles.

They can do but so much without our meeting them at least halfway. I’m glad my friend, his wife, and their son are trusting one another, and trusting angels and other beings, like Labrador Retrievers.

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Ned Bachus is the author of Open Admissions (Wild River Books, 2017) and of the TURNING POINTS blog on and on his OPEN ADMISSIONS Facebook Page. City of Brotherly Love (Fleur-de-Lis Books), his book of stories, was awarded the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction.