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His eyes studied his sneaker foot, with scarring on his calf resembling vanilla ice cream oozing through a chocolate bar. Red shorts concealed the stump of his other leg as he crutch-walked toward his van parked in the handicapped zone of the YMCA; with each step, the swim bag around his neck rolled across his meaty chest. Contentment flooded his persona like sunset-sky, having accomplished yet another challenge, this day.

Seated in the all-weather armchair outside the entrance of the YMCA smiled a silver-haired windblown senior, her eyes alive with spirit as she waited for Call-a-Ride. Next to her edematous legs stood her collapsible stool. A blue dressing on her right forearm suggested the placement of a shunt, used for dialysis patients. No television-watcher, is she.

And during a rest break in the lobby, I watched a purposeful young woman glide through the opened doors of the entrance, her brunette curls bouncing upon narrow shoulders, wearing an ankle-length cotton dress that concealed her missing leg. Also well practiced in crutch-walking, she thought little of her limits—there was life to be lived, to the fullest, as noted by the tan briefcase slung across her back.

And pumping away on the NuStep machine in the gym was Lou, a great-grandfatherly type with sparse white hair meandering across his lined forehead. His rumpled T-shirt and shirts mirrored his relaxed speech. A smile for everyone, he continues teaching whoever is willing to learn. 

These encounters at the YMCA obliterated my earlier self-pity. We all have our limits, visible and invisible. I’m so grateful for mine.

“Hi, Liz! It’s Alice. Come to check on you again—Finish your nebulizer first, though.” Her voice fills my home with morning’s brightness as she settles around my dining room table, its center resplendent with red-fringed yellow tulips. Tapered fingers unzip her case and whip out her computer, notepad, and pen as I finish my breathing treatment and adjust the nasal prongs of my oxygen.

“Good to see you again, Alice,” I say, supporting my steps with my cane and sitting opposite her. On the table was therapy putty for my hands lest my terminal illness further weaken them, and a glass of water to loosen mucus from another lung disease, prior to coughing it up in an emesis basin. “Not much new to report. My weakness, shortness of breath, and speech worsen, but imperceptibly so. Certainly, I’m not where I was one month ago, but I still get by with my helpers—Even take short walks in the sun. Still keep up my deep breathing and stretching exercises.”

Her dark eyes warm me, despite the put-off of her black mask as she takes my vital signs: all normal—they always are.

“Seems like I’m really into my old age. I never dreamed it would look like this. Often atop my bed, I pray, stillness enfolding my body and psyche; at others, grief for my intransigent stuff seeping into global darkness like raw sewerage. Here is where the mantra, ”Mercy!” comes in, cried with vehemence.” She leans toward me and listens, not wanting to miss a word. 

“Yet, each day, there’s something new to learn. Yesterday’s was critical: stop seeking answers where there are none, a waste of vital energy.” She nods and with her eyes hugs me before leaving.

On my way to the front door, I noticed a red flickering among branches of boxwood hedges outside my front window, rollicked by April’s sun-washed breezes—unlike anything I had ever seen before. My heart quickened.

Planted in my flowerbed was a pair of red tulips, their petals full-blown, their color speaking of love.

Then, I remembered. Three years ago, I’d had such a surprise; only then, it was daffodils. When my gardener-friend had prepared my garden and shrubs for that winter, she’d planted the daffodils. It took a while for me to catch on.

Her professional and loving care of my property taught me about flowers and shrubs that further enhanced my home. Her spirit seemed to brighten the harder she worked, often soaked to the skin, her floppy sunhat tied under her chin, her belt of tools swaying with her movements. Lugging yard waste heaped atop a tarp to her white truck signaled the end of that day’s work, not without sweeping the walks and sharing stories about her grandchildren.

What recently impressed me was her disclosure of prayer with Creator God as she clipped, raked, pulled, dug, watered, planted, and mulched. No wonder such orderliness and beauty have followed in the wake of her gloved hands.

I’m grateful, but the red tulips enjoying today’s sun express it better to Peg, my gardiner-friend.

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