Facts and Miracles
By Kathleen Brown
Ever find your heart pounding with fear over something that hasn’t happened and likely never will? Me too, but I’m learning. Slowly I’m getting it. Imagination is not reality. Now when I’m in a situation fraught with dire possibilities, instead of imagining catastrophes, I concentrate on facts. God is near. In Him, I’m strong. And beyond our shared strength, I look for His miracles.
Do you watch for miracles in your life? I do. Even right here in the grocery store.
I study the old woman as she shuffles along; ragged green sweater, black pants, short hair, badly cut, her bent fingers grip the shopping cart. I watch her closely. She’s my mother.
These walks are her exercise, though she doesn’t realize it and wouldn’t like it if she did. Alzheimer’s has replaced her slim, capable body with wobbly limbs and an extreme aversion to physical activity. But this is a store. She must remember something about “store” – the smell of produce, the rainbow of canned goods, rolling carts. Whatever she remembers, she likes it enough to tolerate the experience. The shopping cart makes an excellent walker, keeping her steady as she goes on her rounds.
Today I’m allowed to help navigate around corners and obstacles in the aisles. Other days, no. With surprising strength, my mother can yank the cart back with a hiss – “Let go!” Those days, my heart beats faster and I watch even more closely for potential problems in our path. A stocker putting cans on a shelf, a child running toward a toy display, another shopper just ahead of us. I usually imagine the worst: cans rolling like a river down the aisle, a crying child running from my mother’s scowl, blood dripping from the heels of some unwary matron. Though these things don’t happen, they lurk in my mind nonetheless. But today is a good day. I’m allowed to help steer. After we stop to pat the stuffed animals, my mother approaches another shopper and points to a nearby display of artificial flowers. She steps close to the thirty-something woman wearing a bright sundress and a confused expression. Undeterred by my hand on her arm, my mother leans into her ear. “Go see the flowers,” she whispers. “They smell nice!” And suddenly, the miracle. The stranger smiles and heads for the neon orange roses and purple chrysanthemums, their plastic stems stuck into holes in the metal shelving. She bends, buries her nose in the stiff petals, turns back, and calls, “You’re right! They’re lovely!” I want to wrap my arms around her bare shoulders to say thank you, but we’re moving again, my mother and I. I hope my backward glance expresses the gratitude welling in my eyes.
I found it hard to live in public with Alzheimer’s. I was afraid. As difficult as my mother’s outbursts are at home, in public they’re worse. And I was embarrassed. What would people think of my mother’s ratty clothes and dirty hair? I didn’t care for her properly? Didn’t love her?
But I’ve learned to replace my imaginings with facts. Being out, getting exercise, is good for my mother, so it’s enough that she’s warm, dry, and modest. And I realize I’m capable. I managed emergencies with three sons; now I take care of my mother, calmly, with a strength I know comes from heaven.
Most importantly I’ve learned to rely on God’s grace and His miracles. Miracles. Like the miracle of this good day, a day to pat the teddy bears and smell the plastic roses. And like the miracle I see even more frequently: kindness. Some children stare; some adults give us a wide berth. But invariably, the strangers who come into closest contact with my mother are helpful and considerate. In their actions or their forbearance, through their words or their silence, they are kind.
So I study my mother as we walk and I remember the facts. She was a beauty, the soul of etiquette, a girl whose feet used to dance, not shuffle. I hold my head higher for her and watch for more miracles.