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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)

“And you can change in here,” said the director, her curvaceous body and shocking pink nails unnerving me as I stepped inside the locker room with my new leotard and tights.

It was a rainy autumn afternoon, 1970, following the failed synovectomies of my knees. My surgeon had regretted the outcome, but recommended total knee replacements when the technology was further refined. In the meantime, I was to exercise, keep my body strong. For some reason, I complied—even received my superior’s permission to join the First Lady’s Health Club on St. Charles Avenue, just down the street from our convent. I was thirty-six years old.

Inside the cubicle, the curtain pulled behind me, I grunted as I pulled on the skimpy outfit, black like the habit I used to wear. Whining saxophone music further undermined my resolve to go ahead with this venture. I abhorred exercising, yet I kept moving toward the workout room with mirrored walls and cherry carpeting.

Fluorescent lighting momentarily crazed my vision. In front of me stood a tall brunette looking back at me. Stunned, I touched my waist. She did, too. I smiled—My body was different, with the twenty-five pound weight loss from the surgeries. Smiling again, I greeted the trainer approaching me. I would do this.

From that afternoon to the present, exercise has buoyed my spirit, kept me functional, and cleared out low moods. It also enlisted Spirit’s love and protection to support my efforts in becoming woman.

It’s never too late to start, no matter the stiffness or pain. It worked for me, and still does.

 

 

If it was Friday, it was housework. Dusting, vacuuming, scrubbing, sweeping, mopping—I did it all. Sometimes laundry spilled over into Saturdays. For decades, it had been that way—but then change upset my routine.

It was another Friday, June 30, 2017, sunny and humid. If I didn’t hurry with my vacuuming, I’d be late for my Pilates hour. What pride I took when others commented upon my toned eighty-one year-old body; it had served me well, despite rheumatoid arthritis.

Suddenly, pain knifed me as I hit the hardwood floor in the dining area, my sandal looped around the cord of the vacuum cleaner. I rolled upon my back and howled, then sat up to assess the damage. I had fallen before but it had been a few years. My left elbow quivered as if massaged by sea winds; and my crazed left hip snarled into the universe—I needed help. During the ambulance ride to the emergency room, I wondered if this fall would be a life-changing event. It was.

In time, the fractures healed, but lost was the limited energy of my former life. Housework was out of the question.

Then I remembered Chrissy who had washed my grimy windows the previous year. Yes, she could help me—but her help far exceeded cleaning my house. Her quiet manner, her cheerfulness, her attention to detail have freshened my living space, handled minor repairs, watered my houseplants, polished whatever needed to be polished, even decorated for Christmas. How I look forward to Fridays and her warm hug.

 

 

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