Heavy dark bruises marred her face, yet there was a stateliness to her bearing, an elegance even, that belied her pain, belied the shakiness of her 85 year old step. Silvery moonlight streaming through hospital window back lit her strength as she cautiously pushed her walker across the room.
Seeing me silently motion to her as she glided past my bed, she drew near. Even in the exhaustion of a dark hospital night after a life long lived, I could sense the gentle beauty of her spirit.
Her voice hushed so as to not wake the other patients sleeping near us, she grasped my hand in hers. Her hands secreted a story in their soft wrinkles, a tale written by a life of strength and pain and loss and love.
She knew of my pain and I knew of hers....there's little privacy in the tiny walls of a four person shared hospital room. But in that moment as our spirits met on a dark night, it was not of pain but of strength and sincerity and beauty.
Discovering our shared faith, she began to pray. It was an unusual prayer. Trust me, when you've been ill for many years with a disorder that causes severe pain as mine does, you get a lot of people praying for healing. I cannot count the times people have prayed for me over the years, and I am grateful for their care. Many have been kind as they prayed, but it's a rare person who has been truly gentle.
Most often has come the gentle disappointment or sincere bafflement of someone who truly thought if only they could be the one to pray healing prayers over me, anoint me with oil, or lay hands on me then I'd be made well. At worst have been the reactions of anger and accusation: I've lost friends and relationships over the years when I or they couldn't convince God to make me well or when my pain worsened through the fatigue of hours long strenuous prayer sessions instead of improved.
But the gentleness of this frail elderly woman bespoke only of love. Holding my hand in hers she prayed to God, lifting up our lives and struggles and our pain. There was no expectation of a miracle healing that brought credit to her name. It was the prayer of an old, hurting woman talking to her Father as she had evidently done many times before over many years.
Her two minute prayer was one of the most loving experiences of my life, as she quietly conversed with her Friend, asking for not just healing for us both but for strength and mercy and comfort in our pain and time of need. It was the prayer of an aged, frail saint disguised in a thin hospital gown and bruises. Her quiet words contrasted against the suffering of the young patient in the bed next to us as she fought the effects of severe alcohol withdrawal and against the all night long hollering of another patient far down the hall. It was a prayer of love.
Prayer done, it was time for her to shakily return to bed. Before she left me, my hand still in hers, she tried to encourage me with a Bible verse. But the exertion of the middle of the night trip across the room was taking its toll.
"God is our strength...." she began, sharing a Bible verse engraved upon her heart many years earlier. Then her voice wavered: dismayed, her time-worn mind could not recall the rest of the verse.
"God is our great strength!" she said again, louder with emphasis, lifting our hands up toward the ceiling, almost as if in victory.
Then, patting my leg gently,
she left me to try patch together sleep. I'll never forget her or the gift she gave my life in that long, dark night during a difficult hospital stay. Some friends last a lifetime. Some touch your life for minutes, but their impact carries on, long after you say goodbye.