"You are not alone
Love is with you
Watching tenderly over you
By day and night;
And this Love will not leave you
But will sustain you
And remember all thy tears,
And will answer your prayers."
-The Mary Baker Eddy Collection
I was thinking yesterday about an experience I had almost two decades ago that still amazes me and leaves me full of wonder…and gave for me the parenthetical "i.e." on Mary Baker Eddy's definition of the word "nurse” from Science and Health:
"The nurse should be cheerful, orderly,
punctual, patient, full of faith,
--receptive to Truth and Love."
When I met the man who was to become my husband, he had many, many friends.....most of them women. Once I got to know these women, I was astounded that he had chosen to marry me. These weren't just any women...these were extraordinary women. Women of grace, intelligence, substance and intuition. These were women anyone would treasure as a cherished friend.
I loved meeting each of them, but it sometimes took me a long time to get over the introduction. I was often quite overwhelmed by the beauty and grace they exuded from the get-go. They had me at "hello". They were moms, realtors, teachers, singers, executives and nurses.
It was one of those nurses that took my breath away as an example of amazing grace.
Our first meeting happened just before a Jeff Lorber Band concert in Denver one Sunday evening. Nancy had called my then fiancé and told him that she was in town. She had tickets for a concert that a mutual friend would be playing in, and she asked us to join her. I was thrilled and hesitant at the same time...which tends to be my modus operandi in most social situations. But thrilled won out and we met her for dinner and then off to hear Cornelius play in a small theatre near the restaurant. Nancy impressed me immediately with her genuine joy and deep spiritual poise. I was relatively new to the spiritual practice and faith tradition we shared. Although I had grown up attending a Christian Science Sunday School, my study and practice of its tenets had only been resurrected the year before and I was a sponge for examples of it being lived authentically. And Nancy, from the first embrace, was a walking poster girl for the scientific practice of humanity, honesty and humility.
That evening concert extended into a long weekend in which Nancy returned to where I was busily hand-painting 400 wedding invitations, rsvp cards, and envelopes--addressing them and applying stamps while the Carpenter's Christmas album played in one endless loop of goodwill and cheer..to help me paint, write and adhere her way into my heart. Her generosity was fathomless and I chalked it up to her obvious great affection for my fiancé and her willingness to include me in the broad range of her love.
Over the next few years I would see Nancy at meetings we attended annually, or on an occasional visit to our "neck of the woods". I always felt special to be included in the circle of friendship that she and my husband shared.
But one particularly challenging autumn while my husband was out of the country on business, the phone rang in the kitchen of our lake house near Boston. It was Nancy and she was in the "neighborhood" and wondered what I was doing. I explained to her that my husband was out of the country and that I was holding down the fort...commuting into my office each day, caring for our pets, home, etc. She wondered if I was open to an overnight visit and going to church the next morning and out to lunch before she headed back into the city to catch a flight. Again...thrilled and hesitant. Thrilled that she would want to spend some time with me, hesitant because I wasn't so sure I brought much to the social table. I was fine as a third wheel. But as the main focus of someone's time...not so confident.
By the time she arrived late that Saturday evening the house was sparkling, the dog was bathed with a shiny pettable coat, the embers from a cozy fire were glowing in the fireplace, the starlight was reflecting in the surface of the lake just beyond the large windows on each side of the fireplace. And I was a mess. My shoulders and neck felt like someone had strung my vertebrae too tightly on the length of string I imagined was my spinal cord, with beads twisting out of alignment from being bunched too closely together. I had worked myself into a self-conscious frazzle. I had just sat down on the loveseat in front of the fire to pray when I heard her knock at the door. Well, so much for that, I thought. I just need to be warm and welcoming enough to get her things to her room and offer her a cup of tea, and then I can go to bed and sleep this off. By that time I felt like I was in too much pain to either think or pray.
I put on a smile that I thought most closely matched the real warmth I felt in my heart and gathered her into our home. We chatted for a brief few minutes. Considering the lateness of the hour and her long day of travel, I suggested we both retire. I helped her with her bag, showed her the towels I had left out for her, and then I excused myself and literally collapsed into my bed. My condition had devolved to the point of pain so great that it was making me nauseous. I had hoped that if I could just fall asleep before I lost what little dinner I had thrown down my throat between vacuuming and laundry, that I would be fine. But it was obvious in a few moments that this was not going to be the case. I went to raise myself on my arms to hurry to the bathroom, when there at my side…was Nancy...with wastebasket, warm washcloth for cleaning me up, cool washcloth for my forehead afterwards, and cold glass of juice at the ready.
I so was stunned by her intuitiveness...her preparedness and her kindness, that within moments I was well, and my respect for nurses was forged....instantly.
I accepted her proffering, hugged her closely and she was gone....without a light ever having been turned on. I sat in the dark and thought of all that she had just taught me about nursing...nurturing...kindness and care. I wanted to BE that in my own practice of spiritual healing. Just as intuitive, prepared and kind...ready.
The next morning we went to church and then out for the very best corn waffles I have ever had (and have spent the last 18 years trying to reproduce...I'm getting close). We sat in a wooden booth at a funky little breakfast cafe a few blocks from the ocean, and talked for hours. Our friendship was no longer based on our mutual affection for someone dear...it was based in a moment of charity, selflessness, and peace. I can still feel the coolness of her fingers at the back of my neck when I remember how softly she came and went from the room that night.
My friend Nancy taught me one of the most powerful lessons of love in that darkened room. Mary Baker Eddy perfectly summarizes that lesson in her article "Love" which can be found nestled in her book Miscellaneous Writings when she says,
"What a word! I am in awe before it....
Love is not something put upon a shelf, to be taken down
on rare occasions with sugar-tongs and laid on a rose-leaf.
I make strong demands on love,
call for active witnesses to prove it,
and noble sacrifices and grand achievements as its results.
Unless these appear, I cast aside the word
as a sham and counterfeit, having no ring of the true metal.
Love cannot be a mere abstraction,
or goodness without activity and power.
As a human quality,
the glorious significance of affection is more than words:
it is the tender, unselfish deed done in secret;
the silent, ceaseless prayer;
the self-forgetful heart that overflows;
the veiled form stealing on an errand of mercy,
out of a side door; the little feet tripping along the sidewalk;
the gentle hand opening the door that turns toward
want and woe, sickness and sorrow,
and thus lighting the dark places of earth."
- Mary Baker Eddy
Thank you, Nancy. Your picture still sits next to the definition of "nurse" in my copy of Webster’s...Noah and Merriam, Cambridge, Oxford...and Science and Health...