Homecoming on the evening of April 21 was very special. I am blessed to be married to Jane, a loving and patient wife who is also a retired registered nurse with more than 20 years’ experience in cardiac care. Initially I was exhausted by climbing stairs, or even talking. I have lost more than 20 pounds — good for me, but I don’t recommend the method. I take a handful of medications every day, and I will have to continue them for the rest of my life. One pill helps the stent to stay clear, another treats cholesterol, and others ease the work of my heart. I have gradually overcome many of the initial physical limitations, but I know I am not the same person.
My first Sunday back at worship at Epworth United Methodist Church was Pentecost, and we sang “Spirit of God Descend upon My Heart.” I was tearful seeing friends and receiving their generous welcome. So many people care. My name has been on prayer lists in churches I have never seen. More than 250 cards and almost as many e-mail communications have shared words of encouragement. It is a wondrous and humbling experience to be remembered in prayer.
Recovery demands time and reordering my priorities. As I write in late July, I am still out of the office and not allowed to drive — a great frustration. Thankfully, the fine efforts of our external relations staff yielded a strong fundraising close to the fiscal year despite uncertain financial times. My cardiologist insisted that my work this summer should be to allow my heart to heal as much as it can. At least three days each week I participate in a cardiac rehabilitation program that includes both monitored exercise and classes at the Duke Center for Living. There I am in the company of a splendid variety of new friends in various stages of recovery, and I am sweating under the supervision of an expert staff who know just how hard to push.
I have enjoyed new disciplines of diet and exercise and the opportunity to read without interruption, but I miss the excitement of life in the Duke community, the challenges of leadership, and the daily interchange with friends and colleagues across the university and the church. I hope to return to work, at least part-time, with the beginning of the fall semester.
God is with me providing abundant goodness and mercy. I cannot yet adequately analyze or understand all of this. But suddenly I see heart references everywhere. In fact, heart is mentioned 931 times in the NRSV Bible, meaning, in addition to the physical organ, the center of emotion, self-consciousness, and the moral, intellectual, and spiritual life.
I have always known my heart to be blessed, but now I reflect upon my walk through the valley of the shadow of death with amazement and thanksgiving. By God’s grace my heart is still beating and this life continues with purpose and possibilities.
I shall endeavor to move forward in the spirit that St. Paul expressed so beautifully in Philippians 4:4-7: rejoicing in the Lord always; not being anxious but living gently, confidently, and gratefully; and knowing God’s peace beyond understanding that truly sustains my heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
Wesley F. Brown D’76 is associate dean for external relations at the Divinity School, where he has worked since 1981. He is now back at work part-time, as he had hoped, and his health continues to improve.