(in memory of Mary Elizabeth Long)
On my last visit, we had the white-tablecloth lunch in the Friends Fellowship dining room while your peers glanced over our way, wondering whether I was a son, or a nephew, or the younger friend that I was. Once, I would have picked you up at your own house and, in the low evening light, we would have driven past the summer lawns and the twin gingko trees on the seminary campus where once we had both been students, where I had since become a teacher. We would have passed the faculty houses on College Avenue and crossed the bridge over the Whitewater Gorge, found our usual corner table by the window at the Olde Richmond Inn, and ordered two glasses of wine, feeling slightly naughty, “Fast Friends” maybe, the kind of Quakers who indulged in the world of the flesh more than others might deem fit.
After our last lunch at Friends Fellowship, we went back to your new room in the assisted-living wing. I knew it rankled you, this last letting go of your independence, but you didn’t complain. Instead, you fished out a baggy of old bread crusts that you had salvaged from the dining room and said, “Let’s go feed the ducks.” So I wheeled you out to the pond, and those ridiculous ducks came waddling over, and we fed them together, amused at their squabbling. And later, back in your room, after we had said everything we could think of to say, you asked me to take you to your friend’s room. So I wheeled you down the long, white-walled corridor and we knocked on Martha’s door.
Your friend was propped up on her pillow, lightly dozing in the blue TV light of an Indianapolis Colts game. “I brought the hand lotion you wanted,” you told Martha, and I wheeled you over to her bedside. You introduced us and then I sat down behind you, watching from behind your shoulder as you took out the lotion and warmed it between your palms. I wondered at first why you had asked me to come. “All the Colts have to do is run out the clock,“ the TV announcer said. All I had to do was to sit and listen as you comforted your friend who believed that her long-deceased husband had recently asked her for a divorce. All I had to do was to see her hand taken in by yours.