I intended to write this on December 29, 2013. It was on my to-do list. It was on my calendar. But it wasn’t ready to be written until now, January 16, 2014. Sometimes life is funny that way: we think it’s time for Something, but Something isn’t quite ready to show up in time.
I had the joy and privilege of meeting Boyd Varty today. Boyd is a storyteller, coach, and tracker, drawing upon his unconventional upbringing on and around a South African severely-overgrazed-cattle-ranch-transformed-into-nature-reserve. Because of mutual friends, my Facebook feed has been full of mentions of Boyd’s TED talk back in December. Boyd’s talk centers around the African value of ubuntu (if you’re not familiar with it, watch the video), and those who best embodied that concept in his life.
I can share those details of his talk now, because I finally watched it for the first time—over a month after it was posted. I had truly intended to watch it time and time again (and there was no shortage of of reminders in my Facebook feed), but I never made it past pure intention. I know that “busy” is a social disease these days, but my December was Busy. My mom’s health had been deteriorating over the summer and November brought a hospitalization and subsequent rehab in a nursing home. Though we hoped she’d be able to return to her assisted living apartment, that was not the outcome and she is now living at Bethany Manor permanently. It was a good move for both her and me (as my worries over her safety and care had grown considerably), and it also meant that I—and this certainly wasn’t something I had proactively blocked time for on my calendar—was charged with cleaning out her apartment by the end of December. Physically it was a blip on my radar; emotionally, it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. More difficult even than the 10 days I spent at her side in the intensive care unit after her heart attack and surgery a couple of years ago.
December’s events and exploits alone could be a blog post, but the sincere highlight came on Christmas Eve when I attended the candlelight service with Mom in the chapel at Bethany Manor. We arrived just 5-10 minutes before it began, a perk of not having to worry about parking the car when you need just walk down the hallway. The chapel was full of people—a brigade of wheelchairs in the center section, flanked by pews and more wheelchairs on either side. Staff were assisting additional residents who entered. Chairs were brought for Mom and me, and we took our seats in the back of the room.
As I looked around, I noticed several pairs I assumed to be parent and adult child, like my mom and myself. I thought about how, so many years ago, she would get me settled for a nap after supper on Christmas Eve, covered by a blanket on top of the purple velvet spread that covered my parents’ bed. The nap was in preparation for the outing to Midnight Mass later that evening. Now here we were in that most poignant of role reversals, me making sure that she made it to church on Christmas Eve.
If I’m lucky each December 24th or 25th, Christmas Happens for me. Really Happens. This time, it Happened in the chapel at Bethany Manor as I sat behind the wheelchair brigade. It happened as I watched the staff take such loving care of the residents. Not simply pushing them into place and then leaving, but truly taking the time to make sure one was settled and satisfied, a loving touch on the arm, shoulder or neck before retreating to tend to the next in need. In particular, I watched one man—staff or volunteer, I’m not sure—who would have looked as at home coaching a university athletic event as he did caring for residents. In a role vastly dominated by women, he stood out to me. Not once did he attend to a resident without offering a reassuring, gentle touch on the arm as if to say, “I am here. You are seen.” He was an embodiment of the divine masculine, wearing khakis and an Iowa State Cyclones polo shirt.
In an environment where I might have been saddened by the lack of family members present with residents, or by the stark realization that Christmas Eve for many no longer means spending time with ones partner and children, I was touched by the realization that this was a family. Each one loved and cared for and cherished, though not that day by biological family members, but by staff who obviously served with the same level—if not more in many cases—of affection.
And so it was that experience of Christmas, of Love, of the coming of Light, I remembered when I watched Boyd’s TED talk tonight. He tells the story of Elvis, a female elephant born with terribly deformed back legs, and of the teenage elephant who took a moment to give her a push uphill so she could keep up with their herd, their family. And I realized that had I ever managed to remember to watch the video in December, during the month in which every day brought another 15 things to my to-do list and the worst short-term memory of my life thus far, I would have missed the precious moment of magical alignment in which to make the connection between Bethany Manor, ubuntu, and Elvis. That whether it’s a frail child of God in a wheelchair, or an elephant with bad hips, sometimes just a push is all we need.
It turned out that the moment of embarrassment I felt when I met Boyd today because I had forgotten last night—for probably the fifty-seventh time—to watch his TED talk, was completely overshadowed by the connections to my own life that I made once I watched it in perfect time. We are never too busy; sometimes the time just isn’t right. We are never too late. There is always another chance to be inspired and to inspire.