Updated: Jan 11, 2019
By Amy Carlson:
Nancy, and her ever-present walker, move to the front of the room, center stage, as it were, and she turns to face us. The turning is a slow process that involves sideways shuffling and constant re-direction of the walker. As I watch the slow progress, I know the body was not meant to use this device. The walker. The world is certainly not designed to accommodate this device or a woman who needs it.
Nancy is bent, sort of permanently it seems, toward that walker, her face tilts to the side and her hair frames a soft and genuinely intelligent face that radiates kindness and joy. I can tell you this, and you may believe me or you may not. You may decide that it is my belief about her that is projected onto my description of her. For I dearly love my friend Nancy, even though that may seem odd as I do not know her all that well.
She is a beacon in my life, showing me so many important things about showing up and participating and living. She reads a poem that she wrote and I'm struck by how many people seem to write poetry, which I have never done, unless you count school assignments. She is reading a poem about a church, a stained glass window, and her reflections on a saint named Anthony.
St. Anthony Keeps His Place
by Nancy Ware
At home in lavish afternoon light,
sun struck Anthony in the stained glass
window tends what we yearn for
but no longer have.
Help us to find in the whirlpools
and dustbins of our lives
the fallen key, lost purse
or purpose when much we need
or love has been degraded,
shattered, or has fallen through a narrow
crack in the dark stone wall
of time. Pins, buttons,
address books, all things of daily
or special day use are in your field
of vision even when we have long
forgotten where to look.
You glow with a density of being.
I grew up in Wisconsin in a suburb of Milwaukee, at a time when there were only two religions in the world, Lutheran and Catholic. I probably should have listed Catholic first because it was definitely the predominant religion but being that I'm Lutheran perhaps there's some conceit there. The Lutherans don't have saints, or it is to say that everyone is a saint, and a sinner, and so there's no real need to call out anyone in particular. And even though the name of the church I attended was Saint Stephen the Martyr, which implies that there were some sort of pecking order amid all of the Saints, we never spoke of St. Stephen, and I never learned about him, much less prayed to him.
I learned about Saint Anthony from my Catholic friends, who sometimes wore medallions with a pictured saint. Anthony was the patron saint of lost things. This I knew long before I knew what the word Patron meant. But if you had lost something, such as your red pencil that is used to correct your neighbor's quiz, a bracelet you took off and set down before jumping rope, or a dime you dropped at the fair, or any other thing of such dire importance, you could pray to Saint Anthony for its return. I thought it queer back then, and I guess I still do. What do these patron saints do? Do they slip the lost dime under your pillow case, like the tooth fairy? Even at the age of 7 this seemed improbable to me. I’m ever the pragmatic Lutheran midwestern girl.
I'm fifty now, and I remember this, all of it, suddenly and vividly, as Nancy reads about Anthony, and I am struck dumb because just as suddenly I know that Saint Anthony doesn't find your lost object and return it to you. He holds your loss in his heart, however improbable and terrifying that loss might be, and he brings you peace, as much as that is possible, for as long as you can tolerate.
I look at Nancy and her loss, so plainly obvious as her voice rasps over the words of a poem and her body bent forward over her walker to read. There is no return for her loss any more than there is for mine. My left hand and arm vibrate of their own accord in tune with and in time with this revelation about Anthony. I am changed, and I cannot go back, I have seen this world from this side, and I’ll never unsee it. I move on into the world with the chains of my losses and view it differently.