Beyond the Wilderness
“He led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.” – Exodus 3:1
Almost two years ago now my partner had a stroke that partially paralysed her on the left side. Luckily she’s right handed – and her speech and cognitive processes were not affected. But this formerly vibrant, active woman was handicapped, and, as I became her caregiver, our life together was changed.
Adjusting to this kind of experience is like going through a wilderness. Suddenly we were in new territory. Roles that over the 33 years of our relationship were pretty clear and comfortable had to change. We had to learn to be together in new ways.
At first we thought it was temporary. Surely she would get all her motor skills back and be able to return to life as usual. The specialists were optimistic. But while she did make a great deal of progress, she remained unable to move in the old ways. Still, today, to walk she must drag the dead weight of her left leg. And her left hand remains partially paralysed.
While I’m great at emotional caregiving, I am not so hot at the physical. Two years ago I didn’t know how to clasp my partner’s hair into a barrette so that it fell attractively. Ponytails were even a bit of a challenge. The transport chair took some real skill to master so that I wasn’t throwing her into the weeds as we traveled. And there were dozens of other little tasks that I had to learn. Along with them I had to learn the patience to let my partner do things awkwardly and slowly instead of rushing in to help her. And I had to learn where to stand and how to support her in case she started to fall.
The wilderness was in both learning these jobs and in processing my feelings about the situation. I had to be angry and to grieve. I had to own these emotions and the fate that had brought them about. I had to become the person who took care of someone who can’t entirely take care of herself.
I undertook to learn patience, and I did my grief and anger work. (At least some of it; I’m sure there’s plenty more to do.) But I came to where I could peek out the other side of the wilderness. And there I discovered God. The mountain loomed up out of the desert, capped with cloud. And God was in a tiny fire in a single bush right below it. The sheep wandered off while I took off my shoes.
And no, before you ask, there’s no saving of a People involved in this story. There’s no dramatic call. I AM WHO I AM simply spoke to me in the raw, authentic place of my woundedness and simply asked me to be who I am.
So I just want to say that compassion is where it is at. More than prestige, more than power, more than kingdoms or principalities, more than loss and endings, more than anything else in all the world, love is where it is at. May we continue to embrace that understanding as we sacrifice for those suffering in and fleeing from Ukraine. May we do our grief and anger work, and learn patience, and learn new skills. And may we hold steady.