"The Lord hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over unto death." — Psalms 118: 17-18
It is Friday morning at Regional Medical Center and there is a gathering of family in Room 6440, a room in twilight, shadowed by drawn drapes. The only light spills in from the hall.
A member of the family is up against the final curtain and a dozen or so kin lean against the walls. The only two chairs are occupied. Some drift out into the hall, but quickly return. You come to the understanding that you're in the presence of love and dread, of little promise, of an always hope for a miracle.
Propped in the bed, seemingly drifting in and out of uneasy slumber, is Christopher Turner, Saks High, Class of '07. He turned 20 March 11. Odds are he will never be 21.
Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Sarcoma.
That's five words for a cancer I've never heard of and, so far, doctors don't know how to whip.
Oh, one other thing you might like to know.
On May 13, Room 6440, Regional Medical Center, was a wedding chapel. At 2 p.m., Melissa Varae became Mrs. Christopher Turner.
The Rev. Jonathan Pate, pastor at Chris' church, was visiting.
Chris' mom, Carla Gann, tells the story of an "in-room elopement" that has to be a world record for elopements.
"Chris remarked to his doctor, 'You've got to get me well, I've got a wedding I have to go to in November.' Melissa just started bawling. I said 'Y'all want to get married now?' She said 'Yes, I'm ready.'"
For a few seconds, the prospective groom balked a bit, telling Melissa that she deserved a wedding. That got nixed quickly by Melissa and shortly, the two were holding hands and Rev. Pate was saying . . .
"I now pronounce you man and wife."
The new bride, somewhere in my visit, lies down alongside her husband on the hospital bed.
The thought comes that I am looking at two intangible, but very precious things . . . unfathomable faith and a great love.
Chris, who reads Psalms 118 often, talks about that faith.
"It's come and gone over the past two years, but it's been stronger the last two months, it's been very strong. I wouldn't have gotten this far without faith.
"I woke up one morning, it was 3 o'clock and I had hand prints on my chest. The way they were, I couldn't have done it myself . . . and my doctor said he never expected me to last as long as I did when they gave me time off without treatments. He was amazed by that. We know that was God."
Melissa is with her husband.
"If everybody will just stand back and listen, he has a wonderful story to tell. If you don't believe in miracles, just look at Chris. It's a miracle him just being there in that bed . . . and he will be healed . . . we're all going to see that."
In Melissa and in Chris, you see — and hear — a great love for each other, one born when she was a mere 15 and he was two years older.
In the beginning, according to Chris, 15-year-old Melissa Varae had absolutely no interest in 17-year-old Christopher Turner.
Melissa tells that story . . .
"We had a psychology class together and we had to read aloud. I was reading. He was sitting in front of me and he started reading along with me and he was messing me up. I told him to shut up and not to ever speak to me again, ever. And that I meant it. But he didn't let up. He aggravated me for the next six months. One day in class, when we couldn't talk, he kept passing me notes. I finally gave in. I figured if he was that desperate, he really needed somebody to talk to."
Melissa had no idea just how far she was "giving into."
Talking led to, well, Chris dropping by her house to watch a movie now and then on TV, then to some hand holding, finally to some kissing . . . of which there is some dispute as to who did the kissing . . . except for Melissa, who looks at her husband with . . .
"It was YOU who kissed me, Bubba!"
There was, of course, more kissing, more courting, a request from Chris that "Will you be my girl?," and then, like an axe on the soul, came the diagnosis of cancer.
From Chris, there is the memory . . .
"I was scared, but I knew that miracles happen. I've had some good signs, some bad signs, but I'm still breathing and I'm with my family. So long as The Lord is watching over my shoulder, I'm pretty much happy."
His grandmother, Angie "Me-Maw" Rogers, has a story, too.
"Chris is a great person to be around. He brings joy to everything. On Tuesday, May 26, he was told by the doctors there wasn't anything else they could do and he didn't have long. He got on the phone and called family and friends and told everyone that he loved them. Then he hugged the nurses and the doctors and told them he loved them, each and every one."
That is no surprise to his mother.
"He's always thought of other people first, even when he was at his worst. I remember one day he told me he was scared and I asked him what he was scared of. He said, 'I'm not scared of dying, I'm scared of leaving my family behind.'"
Faith, Chris, is that they'll catch up with you . . .
And were John F. Kennedy around today, I suspect he would add Christopher Turner to his "Profiles in Courage."