I was a little apprehensive at the thought of taking Bethany along to visit Sherry’s mom at the assisted living center; the thought of all those seniors, lined up like so many bowling pins waiting for a Korean bowling ball to come along and score a spare or worse, a strike. Our helper had left for the day and while Sherry daily makes the visit – I am far less frequent a visitor. It turns out Bethany goes along with some degree of regularity.
Sherry assured me that she was “pretty good” whenever she went there and even as we punched in the door code to get inside, I found myself wondering what “pretty good” meant. For Bethany, pretty good can mean many different things. It can mean she was quiet, polite and carried that characteristic smile that goes from ear to ear. It can also mean that she only took out one set of false teeth, knocked over only three people and only ripped two dirty diapers.
Once we got into mom’s room, Bethany showed me what “pretty good” looks like. She gently took Marilyn’s hand and gently held it while looking directly into her eyes. This was a departure because Bethany holds nothing gently and has such poor vision that “seeing” is a relative term. Mom was in a wheelchair and Bethany, standing at her side – hand in hand was a sight to behold.
I was quite nervous about this as Bethany can in an instant turn a gentle caress into a death grip that could easily crush 16 out of 27 available bones in a hand. It would happen so quick that as a spectator, I’d be helpless to do anything. Even as we stood there, me half watching mom, half trying to understand what she’s saying, half trying to understand her physical state, half monitoring Bethany and half in amazement that the whole thing was somehow working…a lot of halves rolled through my mind. You do the math on it and it doesn’t add up. You do the math on it with so many variables in an assisted living home and add in four more “halves” and the math works perfectly. Here, fourteen halves add up to three-quarters of a melon.
Even as the odd stranger wanders into the room (yet another variable to worry about), a seamless relationship ensues: Sherry maneuvering the wheelchair, Bethany holding a feeble hand and now another woman blocking the door. Sherry, with the competence and grace of the Lord, gently shoo’s Helen out, straightens Marilyn up, aligns Bethany with our preferred path of exit and moves the ensemble towards the courtyard. My breath was literally taken away at the sight of all this.
Once we got outside, I discovered that the courtyard had a large circular path around the outer circumference of it. A perfect, narrow path – just what a tired mind needs; a delightful trip around the yard that requires neither skill nor imagination to navigate. Keep walking till someone hauls you back indoors.
Sherry was in command of the wheelchair, Bethany dutifully assisting in the push with one hand on the back of the chair and her usual clip/clop step keeping time with the parade. I sat in the shade and watched in amazement as the troupe made 5 or 6 laps in the bright June sunshine. Bethany held a calm demeanor that looked to me like “purpose”. She pushed that chair, held mom’s hand, kept pace with Sherry as if it were her job in this life to make sure that those three things happened in just that order. Never before has the sight of the blind leading the blind held so much promise, beauty or lesson for me. “To those whom much has been given, much will be asked” came to mind and I realized then that I was doing nothing – those who were asked to do the work here, today were the rich ones. Especially Bethany.
I’m amazed at my wife, her compassion, her fortitude, and her love. I’m mystified by Bethany who’s complexity trumps all that we think we do, I’m humbled by her big brothers who, in the wake of this journey with no destination, maintain a loving discernment so uncharacteristic of the “me” generations. For me, “assisted living” is exactly what the place afforded me – it helped me in my living.