Beautiful Day

Reflections on Shuffle Play (where I write a reflection inspired by a song from that morning’s run)

Helga sat in her wheelchair in her room at the nursing home.  This was where she liked to sit in the afternoons after lunch – by her window that overlooked the mountains.   She had been living in this same room for nearly five years.

She hadn’t been excited to move in Sunny Gardens but she knew when the stroke happened that there weren’t going to be many other options for her.  Her son, Ben, and his partner had offered to move her out to Seattle and she could stay with them but she knew that they were busy and she didn’t care to be a reason for any additional stress in their lives.  Besides, he barely had time to visit her – how could she expect him to take care of her?

So she stayed in Colorado.  She lived there all her life and she wanted to die under the same shadow of the mountains that had watched over the comings and goings of her life all these years.  Her son came out to help arrange her move into the nursing home.  Sunny Gardens Living Center was in the neighborhood her home was in – on the same street she knew so well from each decade of her adult life.

She had walked with her husband, Martin, here on this quiet avenue in the evenings when they were young and courting.  This was the street where they had ridden on bicycles with their son.  The street where she taught Ben to drive a stick shift and where the scar on the aspen tree in front of their house remained from when he ran into it with their old Dodge.  The street where she and Martin stood holding hands as they watched Ben drive away to his first year at college.  Then years later her eyes frantically searched up and down that street as she looked out the window – waiting for the ambulance to come when Martin collapsed in the living room.  She knew he was gone as soon as he fell. Not a sound.  Certainly no parting words.  Just like that and their journey together of 45 years was over.

It was a hard time – but Helga had done pretty well weathering the years since he died.  She tended to her house and her garden.  She met her friends for coffee and had been active at her church and volunteered at the library.  She visited Ben in Seattle quite a few times and went on a cruise with some cousins.  She enjoyed the golden years – even if she spent them without her Martin.

But in the months and years since her stroke there had been a lot of time to sit here in this wheelchair and look out this window.  Honestly, there was little else she was able to do anymore.  Her eyesight was too poor for the card games that many other residents played each day.  Her hearing was now not good enough to appreciate the singers or pianists that came in to perform.  Her body too frail to even think about getting up to walk around or even get herself in and out of this wheelchair.

She had visitors now and then – her pastor stopped by earlier today and one of her son’s best friends made it a point to come by once a week.  Her son wrote her letters.  But she was used to most of her days being very quiet now – filled with nurses and doctor visits, some meals, some naps, this wheelchair and this window.

Helga knew that if someone saw her sitting here each afternoon by this window they might think she was sad.  The nursing home chaplain, a young man seemingly always coming around trying to get the residents to bare their soul to him seemed to think so.”  He’d come in her room with a sorrowful expression and say, “Helga, how ARE you today?”  Helga thought to herself that if she did have something to share she was quite certain it wasn’t going to be with this young fellow.  He wore tennis shoes for pete’s sake.  She couldn’t take a pastor seriously if he wore tennis shoes and that was that.  She knew she wasn’t being reasonable but she figured that after nine-plus decades on this earth she could be unreasonable if she wanted to be.

She sighed.  Well, she knew she couldn’t blame the young chaplain.  When she was younger she might have assumed the same thing if she had seen herself sitting here alone each day.  “Poor old lady,” she would have thought.

But the truth was that Helga was fine mostly.  Happy even, she thought.  It surprised her to think about it.  But here it was, the truth.  Sure, there were seemingly innumerable things that time had taken away but even on the most difficult days, Helga didn’t despair.

She was peaceful and pretty good – because a strange contentment washed over her each afternoon when she spent that time by those windows.  A strange contentment that she was thankful to have known every day since the stroke.

She couldn’t explain it and she didn’t care to.  All she knew was that when she stared out the window at the mountains she loved, every beautiful memory from her long life played in front of her eyes like a slide show.  Memories that maybe hadn’t even seemed so precious when she was living them – but now she could see them in all their vivid color and magnificence.  Now with the passage of time, and with her ancient eyes, she could finally see how beautiful it had all been. Today was no different because as she sat there, the images began.

She saw Martin, young and strong, sitting with her on the front porch of her parents’ house.

She saw them struggling to pay their bills when they were young, but laughing and being happy together regardless of their simple meals and meager vacations.

She could see herself huge and pregnant, waddling her way into a shop downtown to pick out some things for the baby’s nursery.

She saw Ben playing with blocks on the kitchen floor and crying for her attention as she prepared supper.  Oh how tired she had been those years when he was young!

She saw her best friend Miriam across a table from her at their favorite café, talking endlessly over her coffee and camel lights.

She saw all their neighbors gathered together for Fourth of July barbecue in the park.

A million lovely memories played through her mind each day.  And if it was quiet enough and the sun was shining on the peaks just so, sometimes she could still feel how she used to feel when Martin smiled at her, or how the breeze felt in her hair when it was still long and blond, and how Ben’s voice sounded when he was a toddler.   Sometimes she almost felt as though she was living it again.  And she was certain – beyond certain – that even though she might forget many things, she would never forget these important things.

On this side of life there were certainly things she would not experience again.  Her body would never be young again, so many things had changed and could not be healed – and yet there was a solace, a comfort, a peace that washed over her so completely when she sat in this place.

She whispered to herself, “I lift my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come?”  “I lift my eyes to the hills…”

Helga was smiling when the nurse came in to help her into bed for her afternoon nap.  The young nurse, Ashley, had been having a long day, which wasn’t helped by the fact that her newborn had kept her up most of the night before and she had bickered with her husband on the phone over her lunch hour.  Helga didn’t hear Ashley come in – and Ashley paused as she approached Helga sitting in the sunshine, her eyes seemingly fixed on something outside, and the purest smile on her face.

She touched Helga’s shoulder gently but could still feel her bones underneath the layer of blouse and sweater she wore.  Helga looked up at her as her smile faded a bit.  Ashley could tell that she had roused Helga out of a dream of some sort – a dream that she wasn’t quite ready to leave.

“Are you ready for your nap?” Ashley asked.  Helga said, “sure, sweetheart.  Thank you.”  And Ashley began to move the wheelchair away from the window and over to the bed.

“What were you thinking about when I came in?” Ashley asked.   She gently helped Helga shift from the chair to the bed.

Helga grimaced as she gingerly maneuvered onto the bed.  “Ah,” she said.  “I was just thinking about how beautiful it is.”

“The mountains?”  Ashley asked.

“Life,” said Helga in her thin voice.  As Ashley plumped the pillow quickly before Helga laid down her head upon it fully.  “Life is so beautiful.”

The smile had returned to her face as she said it.  Ashley moved the wheelchair back to its’ spot, picked up Helga’s lunch tray, and by the time she glanced back at Helga, she was asleep.

Ashley went over to the window, not sure what she was looking for – but wanting to see whatever it was that Helga had seen.  But she saw what she expected to see – same old Pikes Peak in the distance, some cars in the parking lot, too much traffic on the street below, the weather too hot, some litter on the sidewalk.

She sighed as she left the room and muttered to herself, “beautiful, huh?  Poor old lady.”

But Helga slept peacefully.  Her sleep full of dreams.  Dreams of a beautiful life here and one that was yet to come.  Healing dreams that were a gift from God and able to mend so much that nothing else possibly could.

Beautiful Day
by U2
The heart is a bloom
Shoots up through the stony ground
There’s no room
No space to rent in this town
You’re out of luck
And the reason that you had to care
The traffic is stuck
And you’re not moving anywhere
You thought you’d found a friend
To take you out of this place
Someone you could lend a hand
In return for grace
It’s a beautiful day
Sky falls, you feel like
It’s a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away
You’re on the road
But you’ve got no destination
You’re in the mud
In the maze of her imagination
You love this town
Even if that doesn’t ring true
You’ve been all over
And it’s been all over you
It’s a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away
It’s a beautiful day
Touch me
Take me to that other place
Teach me
I know I’m not a hopeless case
See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the Bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
And see the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colors came out
It was a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away
Beautiful day
Touch me
Take me to that other place
Reach me
I know I’m not a hopeless case
What you don’t have you don’t need it now
What you don’t know you can feel it somehow
What you don’t have you don’t need it now
Don’t need it now
Was a beautiful day

 


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