A reading from the Book of Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b – 16a
A reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians 10:16-17
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 6:52-58

“I don’t know how many more times I can do this,” Miriam thought as she stirred her morning cup of tea and listened to the strains of a Bach Mass in B Minor streaming from the radio.  She couldn’t hear such music without thinking of those dear days gone by when she had sung in the church choir.  She missed the Latin and the glorious polyphony that always lifted her spirit and seemed to provide a window into heaven.  She missed the solemnity when there weren’t so many distractions to interfere with her being able to concentrate on the Sacred Mysteries being celebrated before her.  She could adore in near rapture as the bells rang summoning her attention to the action at the altar and the smoke swirled from the thurible in graceful puffs of adoration.  It was particularly thrilling when a ray of sun pierced the stained-glass window and shone through the incense.  She always took that convergence of indicators to be a sign of God’s presence and blessing.

She nibbled a piece of jellied toast from which the crusts had been carefully removed.  Strawberry was her favorite.  If she were disciplined and relished each bite, her toast could last for a quarter of an hour.  And she could offer her morning prayer following upon her pronounced grace.

Her gaze wandered over her kitchen so neatly kept.  The floors and counters glistened.  She could not tolerate clutter and prided herself in keeping everything in its proper place and the surroundings spotless.  There was a time when there was more of a challenge to her tidiness, before her sons had grown and left the home, before her husband had told her it was over and he was leaving for a fresh start.  She had not known how to respond when he said that for years he had felt stifled.  What could he have meant?  She had pondered his words over and over again and decided he must have been going through a mid-life crisis.  He’ll come back someday, she thought.  She prayed about that.  Wait and see.  One day he’ll realize what he had and come home again.  She had already decided that she wouldn’t ask any questions.  In fact she would be grateful if he wouldn’t share any details of his sojourn away from her.  She would pick up from where they had left off and simply go on.

The clock was inching toward ten.  She would have to be getting on her way soon.  Her journey would take an hour and fifteen minutes.  She wanted to be there by noon.  Her path was carefully charted.  She had tried several different routes and found this one to be the most direct and free of traffic snarls.

As Miriam prayed she stared at the picture of her son and his friend on the breakfast bar.  She always got teary as she saw the rapturous smile on John’s face.  His eyes are closed as he leans into Joshua’s chest whose arms enfold him.  And Joshua smiles broadly and defiantly into the camera.

How long had John, her first-born son, been dead?  Could it possibly be a year next month since the choir had sung Stabat Mater while the casket was rolled into the church for the funeral mass?  Joshua, the friend, already confined to his wheel chair, had rolled his way up the aisle in the midst of the family’s procession.  Miriam had wondered how many judging eyes had looked away rather than be confronted by the evidence.  She had been grateful for the full church and the luscious music specially chosen for the event.  She wondered how many of those in attendance were moved and went on to wish that kind of music could be part of Sunday Mass again.

She rinsed her teacup and placed the cup, saucer, and the plate for her toast in the dishwasher.  She carefully wiped any crumbs from the table and straightened the chair.  She opened the refrigerator and removed the soup and the wrapped food items that would be Joshua’s noon meal.  Steamed chicken breast.  Mashed and buttered potatoes.  Mixed vegetables.  And a bit of bread pudding for desert.  She placed them in her wicker basket.  She looked over the containers and hoped she hadn’t forgotten anything.  Finally she walked into her bedroom, glanced into her vanity mirror to be sure she looked presentable, put on her coat and gloves, and knew that she was ready.  She had opened the back door when she heard the music and thought twice about turning off the radio.  But then she thought what a comfort the music would be as she re-entered her home after her time with Joshua.

Miriam walked up the stairs to the apartment that had been John’s home too.  Her throat always tightened as she fought the expectation that he would open the door when she rang.  She couldn’t resist looking up to the window as she stepped out of her car with the hope to catch a glimpse of the two of them smiling and waving.  The window was empty and the curtains drawn.

She rang the doorbell and waited a few moments before letting herself in.  She closed the door behind her and waited for her eyes to adjust to the dim interior light.  She breathed in the heavy and stale air and thought about cleaning their living room after Joshua had eaten.  She knew her touch was needed.  And that was fine with her.  She opened a window in the living room and welcomed a zephyr.

“Joshua.  It’s me.”

She placed her basket on the dining room table and then made her way to his room.  She rapped once on the door and opened it.  His room was dark, the air, stale.  She saw him lying on his back, propped slightly be two pillows.  He had a quilt pulled up tightly to his chin.  She could see the stubble on his chin and could smell that it had been some time since he had bathed.  Why had her stomach always been so sensitive to foul odors?  Oh, God, she thought, get me through this.

She sat on the side of his bed and took his hand and told him what a joy it was to see him again.  She always looked forward to their weekly visit, she said.  “How are you feeling?” she asked as she brushed the hair from his eyes.

“I think I’m better this week than I was the last time you were here.”  And he coughed.  Miriam reached for a tissue and wiped his mouth.

“You’re looking better, too,” she said.  “I’ll bet your getting stronger.  It won’t be long and you’ll be taking walks outside again.  Just you wait.”  She felt his hand squeeze hers ever so slightly.  “I’ve fixed your favorite foods for lunch.  I even brought a lovely white wine to go with the chicken.”

Silence hung heavily between them.  She knew that their relationship had strengthened.  It wasn’t that long ago that idle chatter filled every pause.  Now there were times when they could be content just to be in each other’s presence.  She could read.  He could nap.  There was peace.  But today the silence was heavy again.

“Joshua, may I?” she asked.  He looked at her in a moment of uncertainty.  She saw tears well in his eyes as he nodded.  She went to the bathroom and filled the tub with steaming water.  She added bubble bath to make the bathing more festive.  She placed his razor and shaving cream on the side table.  Then she returned to Joshua’s bedside and lifted his covers.  She leaned over him and put her arms around him to lift him.  She felt him tense at her first touch and then relax as she helped him from the bed and supported him in his trek to the bathroom.  She sat him on the closed toilet and started to turn away and leave him to his lave.  His arms hung by his side as he stared into the tub.  Then Miriam said again, “May I?”

Carefully she removed his pajamas and stifled a gasp as she confronted his gauntness.  Then ever so gently she helped him lower himself into the water with an audible sigh.  She soaped the washcloth and washed him hoping she would not tear his skin that hung like parchment.  She shampooed the wisps of hair on his head and rinsed the suds away.  His eyes stared fixedly at her and tears rolled down the hollows of his cheeks.  In a whisper barely audible he said, “I think of you as mother.  I hope you don’t mind, but you are mother to me.”  Miriam hummed a lullaby as she had when John was an infant.

Later Joshua lay on his stomach and she rubbed aloes into his back.  Then she helped him roll over and she buttoned his pajama top.  Finally she massaged ointment into his feet, wiped them, and put on his socks and slippers.

“You rest, my dear,” she said.  “I’ll heat up our lunch and then we will sit at table and share our meal.”

She set three places and poured three glasses of wine with a bread-roll by each plate.  She placed John’s picture near his plate and smiled.  Then she noticed the curtain stirring in the living room.

“I hoped you would come.  See, I set a place for you.  It’s good to have you here again,” she said.  “It seems like such a long time that you have been away.”



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