Our motto has always been: If words are powerful…then this matters.
Dona nobis pacem ~ Grant us peace
The Fedora in the Window
In a small and sterile room that looked out onto a concrete rooftop, my body knew sickness, fever and pain. The year was 1978. I’d been in the hospital a couple of days when I watched a medical team of nurses descend upon my ginger-ale world with the precision of Ninja warriors; stripping bedsheets, unplugging oxygen machines, pulling curtains with lightning speed around the bed of my roommate – an international traveler who’d brought some mysterious illness from a faraway land to MY hospital room. No one could figure out what was wrong with her. Before I knew it, in a whoosh of sterile gowns and nauseating sanitizing sprays from ceiling to floor, her exotic germs were swiftly escorted out – bed and all – to leave me alone in petrified peace. Hmmmphh! I thought. That was a close one. The kind sickly lady from a desert-rich continent was gone and I was left with a group of worried mumbling people still mulling about like a tactical team of strategic warriors.
“Why are you running? Why is everyone in such a hurry? And whyyyy are you wearing masks?” I asked. Strange whispers and strange looks.
“It’s the fever,” I heard them say. “She’s talking out of her head.”
“Ohhhhh. You must have found out what disease she has…and you don’t want me to catch it, right?”
“Actually, we’re not protecting you from her. We’re protecting her from YOU.”
Then the anemic hysteria started
What??!! What is wrong with me??!
“You have no hemoglobin to speak of.”
“Seriously? I’ve lost my hemoglobin?”
Only I could lose a hemoglobin. I’ve lost nails and cars and husbands and shoes, but never in my experienced age of twenty-one years had I lost a hemoglobin.
Yet, there I was in
with a life-threatening case of viral enteritis
(aka a really bad case of the flu with complications)
facing transfusions, IVs and cranky people who were tired of cleaning the dust off the dust off the dust to keep me alive.
For nine days I had no visitors and a lot of green jello. Quarantined with no one to talk to. Shut off from the rest of humanity wondering if I’ve ever again see the light of day. Oh, the drama! Who can rest with crossbones and skulls on the door? No one to hold my hand. No familiar face. Only masked nurses in sterile gowns right down to their covered shoes and gloves that smelled like inexpensive rubber. Uncertainty. Loneliness.
To know that I was a contagious risk to everyone else and they were a risk to me, made me feel like an outcast. It was the worst kind of alone I’d ever known. Just when I thought it was safe to jump out the window and steal away home, I noticed something moving in the high horizontal window at the top of the hallway door.
It was the hat that gave him away.
He wore it with such precision.
I was familiar with the tip and the swagger, you see….the way it dipped and bobbed in conversation, dancing in a silent movie script outside my door. Why is it, when you’re sick, everyone “discusses” you without your permission? It wasn’t long before he’d developed a system to get my attention through the high glass. I could turn my head a certain angle and see his worried face staring at me. He wore a gray hat, sterile gloves, and a whitish-gray surgical mask. Standing and standing and standing, loving me with his eyes, only to stand longer. When I fell asleep he was still there when I woke up, winking and waving, darting eyelashes back and forth behind the mask and readjusting the familiar hat to steal a glimpse of the ninety-pound girl he guarded so closely.
“How long has he been there?” I asked.
“Every day this week,” said my saviors in white.
“He won’t let us in until we tell him how you are.”
No one could hold sway over that hat, I thought, you might as well give up the ghost. It was the same hat he wore out and about in the town where we lived. The same hat he removed every day precisely four steps inside the house when he came home for chicken and biscuit gravy lunches.
The same hat he let me wear when I sat on his lap
Oh, it wasn’t the wearing of the hat that caused such a stir
It was the removing.
It always began the same way, “Dear Gracious Heavenly Father…” That hat heard more unspoken petitions over the top of it than it had a mind to tell you. But I remember…and to this day I can feel the hush in the room when he said those words. Four steps to the kitchen. Four words to Heaven. It didn’t matter what came after, those four words opened portals. Pine-railed altars, kitchen tables, or hospital hallways – it mattered not. His voice was low and reverent, but the presence of God was instantaneous. I knew what wars he waged out in the hallway of freedom. They had no idea who they were dealing with.
Papa could only get as close to me as the hallway,
but that Presence came all the way in.
And that’s how I knew that I knew that I knew that I knew
that the only reason he would wear his gentleman’s hat inside a building to the quarantine ward
was just so he could remove it
It was his greatest weapon.
And that is why, in this time of corona, when worlds are fragile and time yearns to be redeemed, that we are going to have to call on our better angels to remember us to peace. Until we can hold our loved ones and touch their faces without cloths and barriers, we’re going to have to conjure up a memory, an emotion, a touch.
And maybe a hat….
One night not long ago, as I was quietly finishing up a nightly ritual with my grandson (four drops of lavender oil behind both ears) he happily and sleepily whispered,
“Say the words.”
“You need more lavender?”
“No. Say the words.”
“Yeah. Say the words, Mimi.”
I never realized he was listening to the words.
Blessings and prayers for a good night’s peaceful sleep deliberately wielded with precision. And he smiled himself to sleep.
It is my greatest weapon.
Papa taught me well. If you believe that objects are alive with molecular energy,
then toss Papa’s hat in the ring.
It was brimming with memory.
The girl eventually healed and found herself walking in a quarantine world some forty-two years later, with all of you. How are we sane in this world of no touch?
I submit that what lies within us is much more tangible than what we can actually see and touch. When I remember the fedora and the four thundering whispered words (Dear Gracious Heavenly Father) I feel my grandfather’s touch, swiftly moving through time and space, held in a memory of a room with no view, heard in the footsteps of one-two-three-four and seen in the graceful donning of felt.
Because I walked in that presence under Papa’s tweed jacket in the space of our lives, I can still feel safe under the crook of his arm. He only needed four words to reach a place so real its essence travels eons through my memory from quarantine to quarantine. It was the presence, you see, the presence. A place where no separation exists. A place where love can wield peace through barricaded windows.
He taught me how to find it by his example, so that when he couldn’t be with me, I could find it myself.
That is how we teach our children to live in a pandemic.
It may be our first, but it won’t be their last.
Because I remember so vividly the feel and the faithfulness of felt,
I am not alone. I want my grandson to remember the smell of lavender all his life.
I want him to remember the words.
How do you love people through a pandemic when you can’t touch them?
You stand at the door.
Don’t worry. Love will walk right in.
Feel free to continue to post the peace into the coming week. There’s an election I heard of that’s grabbed our attention. We will keep sending out that powerful vibe.