A year ago, she could walk, though with shuffling steps, needing to be guided gently by her husband’s hand. He had to coax her, in her almost childlike uncertainty, to step through the door to the parking lot, encouraging her to take “Big steps!” But I never saw him grow impatient or frustrated. She chatters or hums softly sometimes, never quite coherently. As her mind grows further confused, her body has weakened too, and she now relies on a wheelchair. But her graying hair is always neatly brushed and braided, and she is dressed in corduroy pants and pretty cardigans.
Grizzled and weather-beaten, he is always a little tattered, his clothes covered with white paint. His hands are paint-splattered too, and rough, hinting at years of physical labor. They are gentle, guiding the wheelchair up to the altar, and his voice is cheerful as he coaxes her to open her mouth to receive the Body of Christ.
I’ve been watching this couple for the last two years at the little chapel that serves my office building. They’re less often at the 5 PM Mass than they used to be, and I worry a little when I don’t see them for a long time. I rather wish I’d known them when they were younger — I imagine they were a charming, vibrant pair, maybe childhood sweethearts or perhaps a late romance. In his eyes, I think she is still that beautiful young woman.
After a long day of work, I often go to Mass frustrated with my failings that day, or distracted by the thousand things I still have to do. When I first noticed the pair, I struggled not to be annoyed at her noises, but in time, I realized that she and her husband were a grace-filled inspiration. It’s hard to imagine a more sacrificial and faithful love than his – he’s clearly still working hard to support them, but he takes the time and the energy to bring her to daily Mass. He’s always attentive to her needs, and his attitude towards her is always one of deep love, not resignation to the situation.
Our world tosses away and devalues the elderly and special-needs individuals. We’re so focused on instant communication and transitory pleasures, we don’t know what to do with people who don’t fit our paradigm of a successful individual or relationship. Worse, we think we can decide that they’re useless members of society. And on a purely utilitarian level, it’s hard to make people understand the intrinsic injustice in that attitude. But on a spiritual level, there is nothing more obvious. This beautiful couple are not only sanctifying each other, despite her debilitation; they’re proving to the world around them that love can endure beyond human limitations.
I only hope I can live up the example they’re giving me.
Copyright 2017 Rebecca Willen