Softly and Tenderly Betwixt a Rock and a Hard Place
I sit here saddened by the turn of events. Though we live in an imperfect world we do enjoy many blessings, and one of these blessings has been our annual pre tourist-season trek to the coast for a few days with friends. But this year the imperfect world exploded in the face of our proposal. We will not be at the coast as planned. We will be at my sister’s funeral.
She was affectionately referred to as the “Come-back Kid.” Too many sudden hospitalizations, too many close calls but she always fooled the experts and bounced back.
I remember my introduction to her over sixty years ago now. My mom went away for a few days and when we finally got to go pick her up, lo and behold she was holding a baby. It was that simple.
That baby stuck around, sometimes creating quite a stir as she grew up. And all the more of a stir, because the Kid had a Side Kick. (I think the Side Kick was always here because I don’t ever remember her being born.) At a mere thirteen months apart, they might as well have been twins. Between them, they kept Mom on her toes.
It is a proven fact that thirteen-month-olds have a hard time accepting interlopers into their personal kingdom. It even gets worse as newcomers begin to expand their reach through such diobolical methods as crawling. Action must be taken. Not yet aware of how close their relationship would yet come to be, the original tenant began to figure out ways to keep this young upstart in her own space. Fists! To my mother’s horror, she was pushed into the role of referee and defender while her sweet babies were still quite small.
One day the screams took on a different tone, and Mom spun around to see that the Come-back kid had turned the tables and was sitting on the chest of her tormentor. Red faced with rage, she was the one doing the pounding. I don’t promote violence but I think that day evened up the playing field and those two became staunch allies, partners all the way. The proverbial two peas in a pod. I can never think of one without thinking of the other.
They conspired together to make life as interesting as possible for Mom. Their antics are legend. One that particularly sticks in my mind is, around the time they were seven and eight, when they decided to climb up the outside of the Lincoln School. Three stories up, standing on a ledge, and waving happily to the short people far below them. I could be wrong but I think they are the only ones who ever accomplished this feat. Together they were masters of the impossible as well as the improbable.
Life was hard for the family in the late Forties and throughout the Fifties. Real life was reduced to survival…enough food to eat, a roof over their heads. In fact, one summer they had no home. To my mom’s everlasting credit, my sisters have remembered their days camping in the “hobo jungle”, as they called it, with nostalgia and warmth.
Once during a particularly difficult time when my heart was breaking for Mom as well as for the circumstance itself, I offered my heart felt compassion to her. Her reply was, “Don’t worry about me. I am okay. My Jesus is right here beside me.” I remember the calm and absolute peace in her voice.
Many years later, I spoke with my sister after she had suffered disfiguring burns about her face and head. Once again, I found myself searching awkwardly for words to comfort a hurting loved one. Softly her voice came across the phone, sounding so much like Mom. “Don’t worry about me. It just makes me stronger, that‘s all.” Her voice also carried peace and calm even in the hard places.
A few days ago I received a call from the Side Kick. “She’s really not coming back this time, Sis,” she told me. “Her body is shutting down.” The following morning her loved ones made the decision from which we all shrink; it was time to discontinue the life support and let her go.
A few more tremulous breaths and then… softly and tenderly… Jesus came and took the Come-back Kid home.
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