The rehabilitation center smells heavily of cabbage and alcohol swabs.  At dinnertime, his roommate is watching game shows; on the other side of a hanging sheet, he sits in his wheelchair, upright and exhausted, reading a New Yorker. We eat vegetable soup my mother has brought in plastic bowls in an empty cafeteria.  Large panes of glass harden the night into flat black sheets.  There is nothing beautiful here.  The spirit weakens without the oxygen of music, warmth, privacy, poetry, loveliness, purpose. One is left with procedures.  He is learning the proper procedure for getting across a wooden board from wheelchair to bed with what strength is left in his arms.  This is taking days.

The next morning, in an old jogging suit, he waits in the wheelchair for the van to carry him home.  He has negotiated his early release from this prison of procedures.  The van driver is an hour and a half late.  He is out of control of almost everything.  A pool of stillness settles around him.

A nurse’s assistant comes to say good-bye.  She takes his hand and whispers gratefully, I have never met a patient so appreciative as you.  From another wing, a nurse arrives to thank him for listening to her questions, offering her solace in a tough time; he hands her a book he has inscribed to her.  Orderlies drop by, the ones who have washed his feet and fed him bad eggs; they touch him and give thanks for his kindness.  Then, the lilting voice of a nurse from Kenya, Dr. Hull!  Dr. Hull!  her voice sings as she rushes toward him with tears in her eyes.  He extends his hand, she says no, please, and takes him in her arms. 

Who can say who is helpless?  He arrived backside on a gurney, couldn’t lift his head, take a step, speak a clear sentence. Who can say what we have left to give?   Into a place poor in spirit, he brought his Blessed Are.  It’s all he had left.  His words, sometimes cross and frustrated, could yet forgive themselves into poetry.  His voice, slurred and slow, could call deep unto deep.  His body, punctured, stapled, bathed, and handled, managed to bring warmth to those who touched him.  Without beauty, he searched the eyes of each who came to him, and found it there.   That’s all.  He was present to the heart of things.

Now, as the last nurse turns away from the wheelchair, kissed with peace, I know again:  it is all we really ever have to give for sure.  Even in the lousiest places, the most dispirited times.   Just this, just this:  our presence at the heart of things.


~ by Stephanie on 01/27/2010.

One Response to “Antiseptic.Lowgrade.Soul-loss.”

  1. We plant gardens and survive wherever we find ourselves – as does your father.

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