[Note: I took the picture above and wrote the essay below nine years ago on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It is worth sharing again this Thanksgiving season.]
I discreetly pulled out my camera after climbing in my car, turned off the flash, and snapped a picture of Carolyn as she went back to her daily work without her knowing. I did not want her to think she was some sort of display, but after our conversation, I also did not want to forget.
I go to Biloxi every couple of weeks to visit my friend, Hezekiah, in the nursing home. Hezekiah is a disabled man in his late 60s – disabled both mentally and physically – and Hezekiah is a hoot. He spends his days coloring in magazines and listening to his radio, with occasional interruptions for his harmonica and smoking breaks. He generally cheers me up when I visit, and today was no exception. We talked about Christmas approaching, and he renewed his constant desire for a “jew harp.” I have no idea what he is talking about. Oh, I know what a “Jew’s harp” is – actually bought one once upon a time for Hezekiah, but when he saw it he didn’t have a clue what I had given him. So who knows… In addition, he’s interested in a football this year, too. One he could kick. The nurses will love that…
I also visited with Mr. Flowers on the way in and on the way out. He cheers me up, too. He also sits in a wheelchair, but he has a lot more going on upstairs than Hezekiah. He always wants me to say a prayer for him, something I’m glad to do. Today was no exception.
When I made it back to my car today, there was a lady working hard in the nursing home yard, picking up trash, and piling up pinecones. As is normal for me, I said something to catch her attention – “You’ve got a never-ending job, don’t you?” I said as I began to step into my car. She responded as I put one foot in, and this unleashed a 20-minute conversation in that position.
I learned a lot about Carolyn while I stood there, and I’m glad I did. She walks around with her body a bit hunched and noticeably leaning to one side. This was explained when she informed me that her ex-husband had taken out a lot of life insurance on her and then threw her out of a moving pickup truck. She lost one of her ears on the fall.
But she thanks God that she’s alive today.
Carolyn has five children, all adults now. They come and visit her every now and then at the nursing home, and she loves them dearly. If she could have one wish, she told me she’d live somewhere where she could see them every day.
But she thanks God that she was able to raise them.
Carolyn spends her days picking up trash and pinecones from the front yard of the nursing home. It is a never-ending job, but it is one she takes pride in. Her bedroom window faces this yard, and though Atkinson Road is a popular road for litter it seems, and although the trees continually shed themselves in this yard, it makes her feel so good to be able to clean it up enough to look out each morning and see it looking clean.
She thanks God that her health is such that she can spend her day picking up the trash.
And what was it again that I have to complain about?
I told Carolyn not to work too hard, and she told me she wouldn’t. She was about to take a break for a while, but when I left she took her bucket and went after a few more pieces of trash before sitting for a spell.
Carolyn is quite the metaphor for life I believe. All of us damaged creatures get up to face the world as seen through our bedroom window every morning. And if we could just have the blessing of being able to pick up the trash we see cluttering up our part of the world, and if we could just have enough breath and life to make it through that day, and if we have been able to touch a few lives along the way…
Then we have a lot to be thankful for.