A visit with family and a wheelchair "hike" in the woods remind me about the power of being present and how the mundane can become magical.
This week I visited my mother’s home. It’s been five years since my last visit. Such a long gap wasn’t intended, but . . . we live on the other side of the world and got trapped in Fiji when borders closed during the pandemic. Sadly, our plans to visit last year were foiled when my family flew in on an international flight, only to test positive for covid upon arrival. We had to forfeit our long-anticipated visit for an unwanted stay at the Holiday Inn down the road. So close, but so far!
So this visit was pretty special. My mom lives next door to my sister Melinda and her family. Melinda’s husband Jason has ALS, a neuromuscular disease that is slowly causing his body to shut down. He has a breathing tube, a feeding tube, and lots of other tubes and requirements that need almost constant monitoring. My sister barely has time to shower or eat. My mom helps to feed Jason, cooks for everyone every day, and drives my niece and nephew to school and after-school activities. In her retirement, she is still serving others, still giving, and still very much needed.
I had the privilege of sitting in the living room while Melinda took care of Jason, as she went through her daily and hourly routines of care-giving. She speaks to him and he “speaks” to her through a machine he can control with his eyes, even though he can no longer talk. They love each other so much. He can still move his foot, and he brushes it against hers in a loving caress. She gives his hand a squeeze. “Melinda is amazing,” Jason types on his machine, and the machine speaks it out into the air. “No, baby, you’re amazing,” she says. They both are. They all are. I prayed for them. And then they prayed for me. Such beauty.
Last time I saw them, almost five years ago, everything seemed normal. Jason went sledding with our kids in the snow. Melinda made dinner. The kids laughed and played, their only concern what they may get for Christmas. Isn’t it crazy how things can change in just a few years?
I don’t write this to be depressing. Although it was hard to see Jason’s decline, depressed is the opposite of how I feel having spent these moments with family. Instead I feel honored to have entered their world and been present in their reality. What touched me was the love, the sacrifice, the perseverance, the hope and the faith that defies logic. They are holding out hope and seeing groundbreaking and unheard-of reversals of symptoms through the medical trial Jason is a part of, despite his gradual decline. He is paving the way for future treatment.
Melinda’s sacrifice and my mom’s sacrifice are inspiring. My moments with them were precious, including celebrating my mom’s birthday together with her for the first time in ages. I soaked it all up. On my mom’s birthday we all went for a short “hike” on a wooded trail nearby. It took over an hour to get Jason loaded into the car and into his wheelchair. The kids pulled a wagon with all of the medical supplies he’d need for the next half hour. And out into nature we went. Jason’s foot bobbed up and down in joy. He sat back in his wheelchair and paused, looking up. Melinda spoke reverently, “He’s looking at the wind in the trees.” We all looked up. We were present. We all saw the trees with new eyes, the eyes of a wheel-chair bound man whose job used to be leading backpacking adventures but who now sits in the house day after day. The mundane had become magical.
And so I’m here to remind you to look up. Look at the blessings around you. There is power in being present.