Yesterday I was privileged to visit a couple in a local hospital. The husband has been diagnosed with some kind of severe cancer. He's been hospitalized since early April. His wife took a leave of absence from her work and has been with him on this journey.
I had not met the couple before I walked into the room. I had seen a picture of the man from fliers describing a benefit auction to be held for the family.
In the room I saw the effects of cancer ravaging a human body. That was the first impression. First impressions however are not the best or proper impressions. First impressions can be misleading, and that was the case here.
While the cancer has been taking its toll on the body of this man, his wife remained upbeat, steadfast, talking of what's on the other side of this fight.
The man looked frail. On this day he had already had two types of therapy. After being present for 5 minutes, the physical therapist came in the door - do we want to walk today? As she asked the question I got the impression she thought the answer would be no. She was sizing up things too.
The answer surprised her, it surprised me.
Yes. A walk was desired.
The cords had to be adjusted, the urine bag transferred from the bed to the walker. The physical therapist would hold onto the waist band, the aide would pull the poll holding all the IV bags, the man's wife pushed the chair behind the man as he shuffled his feet, both hands clutching the foam handles of his walker.
I watched. I was amazed.
For thirty feet the man shuffled his feet. He needed to sit down. Into the chair he slumped. Back to the room went his wife for the sponge stick for the moistening of his mouth. Just like Jesus, thirsting and not able to drink. She placed the sponge stick into his mouth. It rolled around in there like a ping-pong ball in an empty Campbell's soup can. He was too weak to close his mouth. He had to lift his frail arms to maneuver the stick so the sponge would touch the roof of his mouth, the sides of his cheeks, and against his tongue.
After a couple of minutes came the question, are we done?
No, not yet.
Thirty more feet would be covered, from the chair, through some doors, to the foyer where the glass windows are generous. The sunlight warmed the foyer and the green foliage of spring spread out in an unending canopy. For a few seconds he stood and looked through eyelids that were almost closed and then retreating back into the chair.
This was enough for today.
As he lay in the reclined chair he motioned to me. I had observed this walk. I had opened the door through which he walked. I was a stranger intruding upon this journey of frailty. He motioned to me and whispered - thank you. His wife voiced it louder - thank you.
This gesture of appreciation was surprising. They were the ones who welcomed a stranger. They were the ones hospitable and kind in the midst of great pain.
The real gift that had been given was to me. I was blessed to observe a hospital staff honoring the desires of a frail human being. I was blessed to witness the courage of a couple who could rightfully be contorted by fatalism. I was blessed by a thankful person in the midst of great suffering.
I know that this picture of this couple reveals a moment in time. The fullness of their story is known to others, to themselves and to God. Yet in this moment their character was strikingly similar to Jesus' on the cross, courageous and full of love.
In their courage I found that the reflection from my morning devotional had profound import: "The risen Lord is still with me, not always in extraordinary manifestations, but in ordinary day-to-day life. As only someone who really love me would do." (The Little White Book, Diocese of Saginaw, littlebooks.org)