I sat in the very back corner of the huge dining room where I fed my grandfather a meal of pureed cubed steak, mashed potatoes and gravy and green beans. He was less interested in the main meal portions of his meal, but much more interested in the especially made, for him, strawberry Cool Whip pie in the right hand corner of the place setting. I was, admittedly, a little impatient that he wouldn’t eat the more substantial parts of the lunch and clinched his mouth shut until I gave him the pie.
In that same corner of the room, across from our table, sat a husband visiting his ailing wife. They both could not have been any older than my own parents (who are NOT old, by the way), but there was a sadness in the husband’s eyes that aged him beyond his years…yet, there was a resolve there, too. I couldn’t help but stare as I struggled to get my own grandfather to eat, that this man struggled, somewhat, too. The struggle? Slowing his pace enough to eat alongside his wife, rather than finish before her. Maybe to everyone else in the room, they didn’t notice. Maybe they couldn’t tell he did it, but I did. After all, I was sneakily staring, praying he didn’t notice my curiosity over his situation. Nonetheless, if you stare for but a few seconds, you could see it past the sadness in his eyes…the love a man has for his wife that takes all of the other definitions of living in the moment they had previously shared, to the new definition that now took the form of taking smaller bites in order to share a meal with his beloved. As I watched, it was as though he had it down to a science. Give her a bite of the same pureed meal my Papa had before him, and then take a bite and chew the food for what seemed like an eternity to me. When she didn’t want another bite, he would put down his own fork and wait patiently to resume sharing the meal together. I turned back, resumed feeding my grandfather, admittedly less impatient, and profoundly impacted by that man. There were no words exchanged between the two, no smiles shared. Only smaller bites and time were shared. Time. The game changer when you watch you’re spouse stare off into space, unable to communicate. Time takes on new meaning when all you can look forward to sharing are the small bites that make up the memory of a meal shared. When a fellow patient comes by later in the meal and comments to the husband, “I sure haven’t heard much out of her today,” I was confused. Heard much out of her? Interesting when this women obviously cannot formulate words. No sooner had the thought passed through my mind that this quiet, unable to speak lady screams the worst of screams, shaking me to the core. In the stillness of a meal shared with her husband, the inability to look him in the eye, to say, “Honey, how is your steak?”, I can only guess her screams are the wishing that she could. As quickly as it came, it went, and she returned to eating, and he resumed taking small bites with her.
Small bites represent so much more to me now. The desire of my heart to live 2012 in the NOW, fleshed out before my very eyes that day. The days we say, “Tomorrow” that never seem to materialize because we are always looking ahead. The days we never stop to look those we love in the eyes. The days that pass when we never use our dinner table to linger over a meal, soaking in the moments with the ones we love. All of these missed opportunity to live in the now came into drastic focus as I watched this man feed his wife that day. There was no guarantee of tomorrow, no promise of another meal around the family table, no taking her out to dinner. To him, there was only today and he made the most of it. Are you?