“They also serve who only stand and wait.”
John Milton, When I consider how my light is spent
Yesterday (a Tuesday in mid-June). Helen sat for two hours in the heart of the day and read a book. It was raining yesterday, but not on Monday when she also sat for three hours during the heart of the day and read a book. Those of you who know Helen might understand her immobility on a rainy Tuesday in spring, but not on a sunny Monday. For those who don’t know her, be aware that she is an avid gardener with no less than two or three outdoor projects ongoing at any given time throughout the year. Gardening is an especially avid hobby for her here on the Farm because there is always too much for one person to do outside on any given sunny day irrespective of season (I am fully aware that inherent in that observation is the fact that I am not much help to her out of doors regardless of the state of my health at any given time; my preferred domain lies indoors, and she consistently outworks me there as well for I sit and read at all hours far more often than she does).
But be aware that I offer the rain to you readers as a red herring. On both Monday and Tuesday she was sitting idly and reading for the same exact reason – me. I am not yet able to drive (maybe I could, but I’d still be a menace to all and sundry, including myself) due to my December stroke and Helen is my designated chauffeur – a task she undertakes willingly even on days she’d rather be outside enjoying the sunshine. And on both days I was engaged in activity relating to stroke recovery – a visit to the urologist on Monday to determine the source of the all-too-frequent urinary tract infections that have sent me to the hospital twice during the interim, and to the physical and occupational therapists on Tuesday so that they could do their always gleeful best to work me into a state of utter exhaustion. Helen drove me to each appointment, wrestling my rolling walker in and out of the car two times per each.
Helen acts as my chauffeur at least twice each week, and some weeks she does so a full five times. Fortunately for both of us, five medical visits a week are unusual even if possible. But to say that she acts as chauffeur willingly implies that she made a considered, conscious choice to undertake the role. Nothing could be further from the truth; it would never have occurred to her to make such a choice because she simply isn’t aware of having had one in the first place. She acts as chauffeur – and as my all around Helpmate-In-Chief – because we face life as a team. So whenever I thank her for her efforts, she simply replies that she is only doing what I would do for her if our conditions were reversed.
I am greatly conscious of, and thankful for, the favor of companionship that she has granted me, and she is correct in believing I will act the same way should misfortune visit her again. I pray that will not be the case – not because I am afraid or unwilling to make the effort that further misfortune would require, but because she has already had her aliquot share of it and deserves no more.
On any other rainy Tuesday, Helen would be busy inside the house doing something because she is constitutionally unable to sit still when there are chores to do. And there are always chores to do in a household consisting of only one fully capable adult. I have worked myself back to being at least one-third of a capable adult, so I now attempt a few chores. For example, I can load the dishwasher slowly; the occupational therapist now wants me to unload the dishwasher and I will attempt the task next time it needs unloading. Helen watches me load the machine with some skepticism because she could do it in at least a third of the time it takes me, but she understands both my physical and mental needs to make the effort She has learned patience when I awkwardly try these things, even though such a demonstration of patience goes against her well-deserved reputation as a responsibility sponge.
The truth is that my effort to rehabilitate myself would be lost without Helen’s assistance, and every time she sits and reads during the heart of a sunny day she is doing so in my behalf – even though she is an avid reader by nature and is mostly content while engaged in the task. For her priority during such days is being outdoors, not sitting in some waiting room with thirty or so strangers (some few of whom always act bizarrely) reading a book while an unattended TV plays dreadful daytime fare that passes for entertainment. She has sublimated her own hobbies to my needs and simply would not understand the concept that she is doing so since she doesn’t question that she has a crucial role in our – not (from her viewpoint) my – rehabilitation efforts.
I am a lucky guy. As I have often noted, life serves up relatively equal portions of bad and good to each of us during the long years of existence, and the only way to profit from the bad stuff is to learn a lesson from it. My rehabilitation is reminding me of the benefits of exercise, and our rehabilitation is reminding me of my great good luck when Helen said yes to my marriage proposal all those years ago. After all these years, Helen and I still make a hell of a good team, and goodness knows that teamwork makes any life so much more enjoyable.
Thank god she likes to read and for her willingness to do so in uncertain environments, and thanks to her for doing so far more often than she’d otherwise prefer if she thought she had a conscious choice in the matter.