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“Click!” sounded the front door as it was pushed open, the gutter still dripping from the early morning squall. She shook her umbrella and stepped inside.

It was her smooth chocolate hands—hands unflinchingly willing to serve—that first quickened my heart to her inner riches, warmed by a bright smile.

I first experienced her caring hands, three years ago, while convalescing from multiple fractures. She supported my daily efforts toward independence and knew when to step back as I regained more responsibility over my affairs. In subsequent years, we remained friends as more of her story emerged.

Widowed with three little ones, grandmother, decades of caring for patients in hospitals and skilled nursing homes: all have gentled her hands, with when to touch and when to let go. In private homes, no housework was too much: cleaning, washing, scrubbing, cooking, mopping. No errands slighted. Transportation to doctors’ offices, emergency rooms, and rehab also supported her patients. Informing the work of her hands has been the lifelong study of the bible with its ancillary materials.

However, due to my terminal illness with its weakness and shortness of breath, she has returned to my home: This time, to watch and support my gradual decline as I move toward my transition. She has also lined up additional caregivers when my needs increase. Handy with the hose, she presently keeps my grass watered and the marigolds pruned.

I remain in good hands and I’m grateful. She has become the black sister I never had.

Her name is Tracy McNeil. (618-975-1001)

Excitement buzzed outside my window this morning. It was Independence Day, its spirit given expression by masked neighbors standing around the lemonade stand. Upon it sat the blue cooler, cups, and the moneybox. No matter the oppressive heat and humidity. Soon to be eight-year-old Sloane, her brunette hair in a topknot, had initiated this gathering, supported by her parents, and it was well underway when I picked up their hilarity. Her brother Clark, barefoot and looking taller since last month, helped dispense the lemonade to the thirsty.

Toddlers milled circles around grandparents, hugged their thighs, then took off again; a dad sat in a folding chair stroking the tanned back of his daughter; Sloane made a sign affixed to a pole for passing motorists; a T-shirted mother pushed a stroller with her newborn, another curly-haired toddler at her side; other kids, in helmets, on scooters, stopped by—a whirligig of animation.

Covid threat or not, nothing could damper my neighbors’ enthusiasm. From behind colorful masks, laughter lifted spirits, released tension, deepened camaraderie—a much-needed tonic to ward off the pervading gloom.

It will pass, in time…

Brrrng! Brrrng! It was my doorbell. I was still getting used to it, having just moved into my new home earlier in the day. Perhaps it was another neighbor come to welcome me. Several had already stepped by. After shelving the book in my study, I headed for the front door, still limping from recent knee surgeries.

“Why, is this my friend, Ms. Liz?” It was Ginny, her question brimming with playfulness, but her breathing, heavy. Then, supported by a cane, she was able to walk the distance between our homes. Perspiration dotted her wide forehead as she stepped inside and said, “O! You’ve already done wonders for this place—the creamy colors of the walls and the fireplace. I like the feel of it.” That was fourteen years ago.

For years, we enjoyed impromptu meetings in my front yard whenever she found me raking or gardening. Seated in her handicapped van cooled by the air conditioner, the motor idling, she regaled me with stories of her grandchildren, bemoaned garbled communication among specialists involved in her care, and detailed the side effects of the latest medication she was taking. Her laughter seemed to grow more hilarious with the darker stories.

Such laughter suggested a profound reliance upon her God that drew her into my heart. She had already tasted the dregs of life before I met her and was scraped clean. Humility was not just a word. She breathed it.

Even more humor merged with last year’s cancer diagnosis that squeaked sideways onto other chronic ailments. Subsequent phone contacts revealed her absolute trust in God’s will. With unstinting clarity she opted for hospice, the next step. When the drugs failed, however, she took her last breath surrounded by family. She was home.

In the wake of Ginny’s passing, I’m left with sadness and a paradoxically rich emptiness. I liken her spirit to four brash lilies eternally alive in the sun.

 

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