Last week at the shelter, 4 year old Brandon was having a rough day. He was cooped inside with all of the other children (mostly girls) and no one was treating him well, as he let everyone know through constant crying fits. Since I wasn’t that busy, I offered to take him out to the back yard to play on the swing set, and the staff gladly agreed. Immediately the mood changed, and Brandon was in his glory. He screamed with delight, imagining that he was flying as I pushed him on the swing. Then he laughed wildly as he ran through the uncut grass, and played with the tamest wild cat on the face of the planet. To top it off, some workmen were replacing the roof of the house next door, and he stared with amazement at how high they were, and how effortlessly they climbed the ladders and swung up to their worksite. The day was beautiful, the world was full of wonder and fun, and all was good for Brandon once again.
This week, we haven’t been able to make it to the shelter. My wife’s ninety year old mother has recently suffered a sudden onslaught of bad health and memory decline, and has had to move from her apartment into an assisted living facility. Consequently, my wife and I have spent the better part of the week packing up her belongings and moving them to her new home. As I made repeated trips from her building to the car, I kept passing an old couple sitting in front of the building. The man sat on a bench enjoying the day and nodding to everyone that passed, and, in front of him, between his legs, his wife sat slumped in a wheel chair, apparently the victim of a serious stroke. She appeared not to notice anyone, and did not speak. But the whole time, the old man just sat behind her, and patted the handles of her chair, much, I imagine, as he must have rubbed her shoulders in better times. But in any event, the day was again beautiful, and although the man’s world might not have been full of wonder and fun, he did seem perfectly content to just sit with his wife, his arms protectively around her chair.
The move, and the sudden decline in health and memory, have been awfully hard on my mother-in-law. She has always been an intelligent, strong willed and fiercely independent woman, and the changes, and her inability to remember daily events, has left her bewildered and depressed and more than a little frightened. And my wife, despite a sometimes contentious relationship with her mother – alright, often contentious relationship (strong willed, fiercely independent people are not all that easy to get along with) – has shown her mother the same gentle, tender love that she showed our own children when they were young. Despite an abhorrence of making phone calls and attending to details, my wife has spent countless hours on the phone with doctors and caregivers and insurance companies, making sure that her mother is getting the best care possible. She sits with her mother for long periods, doing jigsaw puzzles and watching baseball games, as she reminds her mother of good times past. She patiently answers the same questions over and over, lets her mother cry when she needs to, and hugs her and reassures her that she is not alone, and that she is loved.
Now I know the world is a hard place. We humans have a terrible propensity to violence and cruelty and indifference and greed. Every day at the shelter we see the direct and immediate consequences of mankind’s sins – young women suffering because of their lack of education or opportunity, their abandonment or abuse by parents or lovers, their own foolish choices, or institutional and societal injustice – and these sufferings are passed on to their innocent, beautiful children. All of us, at times, are both victims and perpetrators, and we can make such a mess of our lives and of this beautiful world that has been given to us.
And yet, when we are at our best, when we display our humanity in its truest form, I don’t think there is anything more glorious in all of God’s creation than us simple and sinful human beings – not the galaxies and stars, not the mountains or seas, not the myriads of animals and plants that God has graced our world with. Those times, such as –
- when we are laughing joyously at the beauty of the world and the sheer happiness of being alive,
- when we remain faithful – to another or to principles or to dreams – even though our promises to remain so might have been made under circumstances that we can scarcely remember,
- when we love tenderly and gently and compassionately, and are totally present to another despite the sacrifices demanded,
– those times convince me that the ancient teaching that we are made in the image and likeness of God must be true, and I think the glory we display is but a reflection of the glory He is. And at those times, I think that God must be looking down and smiling, so happy to see a bit of Himself in His children that He loves so much.
Tim Grosch lives in St. Louis, Missouri and retired two years ago after practicing law for over thirty years, mostly as a corporate attorney. Since retirement, he and his wife Jolene have done their IVC Service at a shelter for homeless pregnant women. They have four children either in college or on their own, and neither Tim nor Jolene likes the empty nest thing very much. In his spare time Tim likes to do woodworking and yard work, bikes and reads, and helps his son with his new business. He still does not know what he wants to be when he grows up, but he is still looking.