Crumbs to a Beggar

For nearly a year between college and seminary, I was employed as a live-in companion for a 90-year-old woman.  My job was to cook and serve her meals, see that she took her medication, run errands, and help her with activities of daily living. This was not always easy, for Mrs. L. was in the process of stubbornly living out her days.

Dinner could only be eaten on fine china by candlelight, and only if she were attired in a proper evening gown. Because of a hiatal hernia, she spit up a lot, and her aim was not particularly good, so often she had to go back upstairs to switch gowns in the middle of a meal. All this formality and costume changing caused dinner to go on for an inordinately long time each evening. It would have been much easier on Mrs. L., who was rather feeble, and on me, her caretaker, had she had a simple meal and been done with it, but she was insistent. And her evening meal was merely one example of her stubbornness.

Mrs. L. believed that one must spend at least one hour outdoors each day. In pleasant weather I couldn’t agree more, but Mrs. L. didn’t care about the weather.  She had been outside one hour every day for 90 years.  My objections could not stop her.  When it rained, she donned a raincoat, hat and galoshes, sat in her lawn chair and covered herself with a plastic tablecloth.  When it snowed, she’d send me to shovel a path to her chair and out she’d go, all bundled against the cold.

It has been said that the difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will and the other from a strong won’t.   Mrs. L. was both obstinate and perseverant, and I admired her ability to be both.

Mrs. L. has been gone for many years now. I can’t say I miss her because we were never really friends.  But now and again I remember some bits of wisdom I’d heard her speak to herself; wisdom I received as crumbs to a beggar.  “All sunshine makes the desert,” she’d say as she’d hobble out the door for an hour of sitting in a rain storm. Or “never watch anyone out of sight.”  At 90, it was quite possible that when she said goodbye to someone at the end of a visit, it could be for the last time. So instead of ending a pleasant social call with a sad thought as their car pulled away, she would turn on her heels and head into the house, muttering that phrase under her breath.  “Never watch anyone out of sight.”

There was something else she whispered regularly, too, but I can’t tell you what it was because I never heard it.  All I can tell you is that she’d say it each night on her knees with her head bowed and her hands folded on her bedcovers.  Then she’d climb into bed, calmly close her eyes and go right off to sleep.

I wasn’t there when Mrs. L.’s life finally ended.  I was away at school, getting my life started.  But I will always remember that headstrong old lady whose days were filled with tea parties and visitors, fresh air and faith in God.  A woman who, right to the very end of her life, stubbornly maintained her interest and enthusiasm for living.

Not a bad idea for the rest of us.

Copyright © 2020

Semper Fire

At 0615 I stood facing the open gym door at the University of Windsor, Ontario. The affixed sign announced in bright red marker “Moving One Step Beyond Your Fear.” I took a deep breath and propelled myself toward the group of people nervously chatting in the center of the large room. The Annual Phoenix PerformingContinue reading “Semper Fire”

Touching Steel

The offices of the World Trade Center Tribute Center occupied an upper floor in a building across from Ground Zero. When I arrived, Lee and Jen met me at the door. A retired career firefighter, Lee lost one of his two firefighter sons in the towers on 9/11. Jen, a local resident, had volunteered soonContinue reading “Touching Steel”

Never Forget

On September 11, 2015, students and staff at the Nuclear Power Training Command gathered to remember the events of September 11th 2001. Truth be told, only the staff could really remember since most of the students that year had been in kindergarten in 2001. I was asked to speak at the event. Here are myContinue reading “Never Forget”

Look at the Fish

My windshield has been the recipient of some of the foulest trash talk imaginable, and I make no apology for it. Growing up on New York’s Long Island, home to the world’s longest parking lot, laughably named the Expressway, I was predisposed to such behavior. I apprenticed in the passenger seat of my mother’s Mustang,Continue reading “Look at the Fish”


The first time I heard “Blue Moon” it was sung, not by Frank Sinatra, but by the two Zulu men I was sitting between on a makeshift seat in the front of an old van. Okay, so it was probably not the first time I had heard that song, since I was familiar with theContinue reading “Harmony”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: