Sunday, January 6, 2008

Love Conquers All

Love Conquers All

Stefania was only 5 feet tall, and as she got older she was sure she was shrinking. She was an Italian woman from the Old country and she would often revert back to her native tongue when she got agitated, which was quite often. Stefania was always quick to voice her opinion, and, although she was now 94 years old she often remarked how she didn’t belong in a nursing home with all these “old ladies.”

Aside from her distaste for the elderly, Stefania had also shown little tolerance for people of other colors throughout her life. When her daughter had brought a black friend home from High School, she had in fact become very angry and thrown the boy out of the house. Although her daughter eventually forgave her mother for this outburst, it was clear that her mother was fairly “set in her ways” when it came to people from other cultures.

Henry was a Black man of the age of 87 who also lived in the nursing home. Henry had come to live in the home after his wife of 52 years had died and his family had decided he could no longer take care of himself. Henry was a very spiritual man who had led his church choir for many years, and was still taken to belting out songs around the nursing home when the spirit moved him. As an active participant in the civil rights movement, Henry had marched on Washington with Dr. King, and he had seen America change a great deal since he had grown up in the South where he had to use separate drinking fountains and bathrooms. Still, Henry had a general distrust of White people from years of experiencing discrimination, and even in the nursing home he preferred to be assisted by the black nurses when they were available.

“Swing low, sweet chariot, comin for to carry me home,” Henry’s voice boomed throughout the halls. And at it was just at this time when Stefania came ambling by with her cane, walking very slowly and quite upset by the noise.

“Shut that racket up,” Stefania yelled into the room to no one in particular.

“A band of Angels comin for to me,” Henry’s voice continued to belt out.

Stefania could take it no more, she began advancing on Henry and lifted her cane up over her head and smashed it against Henry’s wheelchair.

The nurses came running over when they saw this and quickly escorted her away.
“It’s okay sister, God still loves you,” Henry yelled out to her as she was walking away.

Stefania looked back and made an obscene gesture at Henry as she did. Henry laughed heartily at the woman’s boldness and then yelled back,

"And I love you to"

Stefania stopped walking when she heard this and again turned to look back at Henry, this time taking him in, and wondering to herself who could love an angry old woman life her.

The religious services at the home were generally non-denominational but there were Catholic groups who came to deliver communion once a week, and also a Baptist group who came in to sing and share stories with the residents on Tuesdays. When Sunday arrived and they were passing our communion to the Catholic residents, Henry observed Stefania taking a wafer into her mouth and then making the sign of the cross and was instantly curious.

“What you got there sister?” Henry yelled out to Stefania.

“This happens to be the body and blood of our lord and savior,” Stefania admonished him.

“Well hell, I guess that won’t hurt me none, give me one too,” Henry asked, and the volunteer did as requested. Stefania was impressed by Henry’s quick conversion to Catholicism and smiled for the first time in a while. This man was starting to grow on her and she decided she might want to get to know him a little better.

A couple of days passed and Henry and Stefania were now sitting together regularly at mealtimes. Henry had taken to teaching her some songs, and when they finally got some time alone they began practicing “Go tell it on the mountain,” which they both liked singing very much. Beyond the singing though, they both had begun to develop a deep curiosity about each other. At mealtimes they started inching closer and closer towards each other until eventually their shoulders were touching when they ate. Stefania enjoyed this closeness, and was beginning to feel something she hadn’t felt in quite some time.

It was a few short days later when they started holding hands during activities and the nurses were quite amused how this little couple had begun to look out for each other. Despite Stefania’s diabetes which prevented her from having sugar, Henry would hide his desserts under his shirt for her during mealtimes so she could have something sweet to eat when they were alone. She was very flattered by his bravery, and, when he had presented her with a prized piece of chocolate, she kissed him on the cheek in a show of appreciation. It was the first man she had kissed romantically other than her husband in 80 years, and she had forgotten how exciting it really could be.

The next Tuesday was Christmas Eve which was always a huge visiting day at the home. Stefania’s large Italian family had all come down to the nursing home and were anxiously combing the halls looking for their mother. One of the nurses directed them into the recreation room, and when they turned the corner they were greeted by a rather surprising site. It was there 94 year old mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, in a room full of Black people, holding hands with a well-dressed Black gentleman, singing “Nobody know the troubles I’ve seen” at the top of her lungs.

Her daughter looked on in a mix of fascination and wonder. Her mother, who had spent her entire life preaching to her that people should “stay with their own kind” singing Negro spirituals was such a shock to her she almost couldn’t process it. She looked back at her mother, and saw her smile at the old man and she was again amazed at her newfound happiness. Something had changed in her mother’s life and she wanted to know more about it. What was it? What force could she have found to undo so many years of bitterness? She grabbed her husband’s hand and began walking up to kiss her mother. Amazed at these new developments in her little mother’s life.

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