Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Question That He Frames


In all but words,

Is what to make of a diminished thing.

The Oven Bird ~ Robert Frost

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The campground is empty. Two weeks ago the park was bursting with people, alive with children's shouts, the whir and buzz of bike tires and skateboard wheels. You had to thread your way carefully through the maze of cars, boats and trailers. Today it's quiet enough to park your car in the middle of the street, get out and go visit with your neighbour.

Mornings are cool enough to make the warmth from the fireplace not only pleasant but necessary. In the garden there are still lots of blossoms but almost everything is going to seed, shrinking back, drawing in. Leaves look ragged and bleached out, like old clothes hung in the sun too long.

I tour the garden in the chill morning sun, taking just a few more pictures. The change is probably not even perceptible to someone who doesn't know every plant as well as a life-long friend.

What do we make of a diminished thing? Quietly but steadily, family members who were the nucleus of my world when I was a child have disappeared. I have a brother left. His heart is failing. He is tethered to an oxygen line and is house bound. He is caregiver for his wife who is trapped in the living death that is advanced Alzheimer's. She is a fragile shell which requires the same level of care as a newborn. He feeds and changes her, bathes her, combs her hair and sings to her with exquisite tenderness. They have been married 54 years. He refuses to put her in a nursing home. "My bride," he says, "My bride doesn't want to go to that place."

He is not up to the task of caring for her, even with help. His doctors and his children want both of them to go to the nursing home, but he refuses, partly because they would be placed in separate wings of the building. He clings to the home they built together, putting up with incredible inconvenience and discomfort, while their daughter tries to care for the two of them, care for her own family, and hold down a job.

What do we make of life when our options are diminished? There are no easy answers. We live day-by-day, making of the time what we can. Moment by moment life unfolds. While many fade as flowers in autumn, some have learned along the way to embellish with joy the diminished thing. Joy is a lesson that must be learned before the challenges of autumn and winter begin.

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