Field Notes From A Prayer Warrior

*I wrote this almost forty years ago for a freshman writing class. Today He nudged me to post it to this blog, and I thank Him for that. It is a part of my journey worth remembering, celebrating…and sharing (that’s the scary part). I present it unedited (also scary), an offering of obedience and faith.

CALLIE

At the age of fifteen I regarded the world of the elderly with horror. I cursed them as they puttered, swerving, in front of me on the highway. Their walkers and crutches embarrassed me. Eyes averted, I avoided all contact with them, fearing the day when I, too, would join their ranks. Every gray hair, every wrinkle, every limp confirmed my thought: Oh, how terrible to be old!

These ideas on age were to change the summer of that particular year. Having tentatively chosen a future career in medicine, I decided to volunteer as a “candy-striper” at the hospital in my home town. As fate would have it (I now feel such things are never a coincidence), I was assigned to the “geriatric ward.” Days passed, a succession of figures stooped in wheelchairs and of frail bodies writhing against IVs and twisted sheets. Why I did not quit within the first week I do not know, though now I suppose I was waiting for something to happen, or someone. That someone was Callie.

Callie appeared during one of the slow periods of my day, between meals, where one has little more to do than run odd errands for the nurses. I was told to bring a fresh pitcher of water to the new patient in 7028. Clutching the styrofoam receptacle, I entered the room as cheerfully as my grim mind would allow. I called out a “Good morning,” expecting the blank silence I’d grown so accustomed to. Instead, a pair of blue eyes twinkled at me and a sing-song “Hello” reached my ears. Surprised, I watched her arrange a ruffled pink bed jacket about her tiny form. “What’s your name, sweetie?” she queried in a soft Southern drawl.

From that instant on I was mesmerized. HER name was Callie, “not short for anything, just Callie, just a typical girl’s name in the South, but you didn’t hear it up north here much, did you?” She was a lovely woman, long silver hair braided and wrapped around her head, a delicate jaw and sweet-rose cheeks that dimpled when she smiled. She declined to give her age, but admitted that her eyes weren’t as good as they had once been and asked if I might read for her from time to time. Nodding my head vigorously, I promised to be back.

Most of the time she had me read her letters from home, news of uncles and grandchildren and lifelong friends from places with names like Endelberry and Crookjaw Falls. Callie regaled me with tales of life in the mountains as a young girl shooting possum and her days in some women’s college in the Carolinas with dress codes and curfews and balls. She had fallen in love with an Air Force officer and moved here, and she’d grown so attached to the people and the land that she’d chose to remain even after the death of her husband. She had worked as a secretary for a pastor in some small prairie town right up until the day she fell ill.

Upon request I would often read the Bible aloud to her. Callie had many favorite passages, in particular the 23rd Psalm, and she never grew tired of hearing them. Being at the point in my life where religion was “uncool,” I approached this task most reluctantly at first. As time went on, though, I began, through Callie, to see life in those words. Some days when I read I would glance up to find her face wet with tears, an unmistakable rapture in her eyes. Her smile would light on me and something would turn in my heart.

Our conversations became somewhat of an education for me, and for her. Fifteen years old, I was privy to all the knowledge she had gleaned in her many decades on earth. She gave me innumerable facts on Southern politics. I relived with her every agony she had suffered at the loss of so many loved ones. We compared our lives as teenagers. She often, too, turned the conversation towards me, questions of my interests and my dreams and my hopes and my goals. Every piece of advice she ever offered in these areas I still cherish today, so wise she was, and I believe I made her wiser still.

You know someone has died the minute you step onto the ward. There is no tangible evidence, only that sense of certainty one develops from working in such a place. I knew it was Callie, yet still I made the walk to her room to find the stripped bed, medicine’s own unique metaphor of finality. She died of a virus, they told me, during my three-day absence. Family had sent for her body, to be buried in her native soil. I said a prayer for her and then I whispered, “Thanks.”

Sometimes I find myself crying for the loss of Callie, though more often her memory finds a smile. I often wonder how my life would have progressed, had I not met her. All the wisdom that would have been ignored! All the love I would not have given to those that need it so much during those last lonely years…

At a time when I felt the world was mine, Callie showed me that the world is ours, to share with each other. She taught me something of the value of all of us, be we young or old. I will never forget those lessons, and I will never forget her.

Wherever you are, sweetie, I love you.

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