Friday, March 20, 2020

Thanks are not Enough

She started out telling me all the things that could go wrong.

"I might make you crazy."
"You're probably going to have to tell me to stop talking."
"I won't let you boss me around. I have to be in charge. Remember, I'm taking care of you, not the other way around."

And all of this coming from one of the gentlest people I know, and the one who volunteered to care for me at home post-open heart surgery, the one who stepped up without ever being asked so that I wouldn't have to go from the hospital to a nursing home to recover. And now she was giving me second thoughts. Well, I'd been warned. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all.

As it turned out, though, we'd both underestimated pretty much everything. We could never have guessed how sick I'd be, how long it would last, or how much help I'd need but more than anything else, how beautiful it would all be.

Carol had already moved in by the time I got home from the hospital. Her pillows sat puffed and waiting, her bedtime fan sat on a table, the oversized cosmetic bag she took everywhere had found a place to land in the bathroom, and her clothes hung in the guest room closet as though they'd always been there.  Cupboard and refrigerator already held her own food supplies. She'd brought in her blue fleece blanket and her coffee pot. Almost everything but her cat. She hadn't brought her cat.

I didn't care. I didn't even notice most of it for days. I was thinking about something else.  After all, I'd been filleted like a fish, then sewed, glued, and wired back together, and sent home with pages of instructions specific to what I couldn't do for the next twelve weeks. And what I was forbidden fell entirely to Carol. She had to do them all.

I took awhile to digest. Like so many other changes, these new patterns emerged gradually and by accumulation in one venue at a time. I needed her in far more ways than I ever anticipated. I needed her in the shower--to guide me into the chair, soaping what I could not, leaning me into the flow of the water she'd already tested and proved just hot enough, rubbing so carefully with only soft finger pads into a grateful scalp, maneuvering the towel over and around, ignoring self-consciousness. I needed her to help me dress--to guide feet that couldn't find the leg of pajama bottoms and arms unable to reach the appropriate holes of a shirt. I needed her to prepare every meal, to run every errand, to entertain every well-wisher, to track and compile every medication, to absorb every phone call, to monitor every nurse's visit, to hover nearby when I tried to walk, just in case.

But those were just things--just things people do in situations like that. Like any healthcare worker. Like any well meaning friend.  Days went by before I knew that what Carol was doing was different--not like a nurse, not even like a friend.  It started with the singing, I think.

She didn't have to sing, but she did. Every morning, I heard her before I saw her, unfailingly cheerful, greeting not only me but a world she was happy to meet. Nothing seemed to ruffle her--not groans or confusion, not weakness or surly impatience, not even my stubborn insistence that I could do something she knew I couldn't. No, I could not have Bible study here yet. No, I could not go to line dancing. No I could not yet go safely to church. She mother-henned, but didn't insist on any of it, giving just enough space for me to discover the wisdom to agree.

Even after these, though, it was the smallest things she did that, when I think of them now, still astonish. The blanket she relocated from place to place as I moved through the house because it was softer and warmer than any other. The day she made tater tots for meal after meal because it was all I had a taste for. The towels she warmed in the dryer before showers. The milkshakes she made when absolutely nothing else tasted good. The day she made a special trip to the grocery for fragrance free laundry detergent and rewashed clothes and bedding because the smell of my old detergent made me sick. The bird feeders she hung on the back deck to bring in Spring's first robins. The beds she made up all over the house every single night because she knew I could rarely sleep in the same place two nights in a row. The daily laundry, trash, and dishes she dealt with so that the house would always be clean and smelling fresh. The hugs and encouraging words, and laughter that never seemed to stop. The true delight she brought into my own awkward pain and failed patience.

And she never made me crazy. Not once. Instead, she astonished me. Not only for what she did, but that she did it so easily. After all, both she and I have already lived most of our days. We don't have all that many left, so the giving away of these dwindling days has become a huge gift. Well, Carol gave me a whole month of hers, and I grabbed them up with eager, greedy hands like a lifeline. I had no idea I would need them, or her, so much, and she never once made me feel selfish for it.

If the measure of our life's witness is the degree to which we can turn ordinary days into holy moments, and through them, become living beacons of faith, well, this experience showed me what that looks like. If true faith means behaving like Christ when we think no one is looking, I got to see that great faith in action. Thanks is not enough. Learning how to do the same for someone else, though, might be a good start.

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.--Maya Angelou

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love. --Mother Teresa

Whatever you do for one of the least of these, you do for me.--Matt 25:40