Today I am reminded of my Aunt Olive.
She wasn’t really my Aunt, rather my great Grandmother who didn’t like the idea of the old sounding title, among other reasons. So she asked us to call her “Aunt” Olive instead and everyone obliged.
When Aunt Olive was in High School and College she had trouble with her legs and at one point she was diagnosed with polio.
My earliest memory with her was going to the store. We went to her home and she was confined to a wheelchair. Someone had this smooth lacquered board we placed under her leg and into the back seat of the car. Olive would use her arms to help slide herself across the board and into our vehicle. Then we’d place her wheelchair in the trunk and off we went on an adventure.
As time went on it was more challenging to slide herself across the board and we would take her for rides way less often until it just wasn’t feasible. At that point, we would go visit and she was often placed in front of a puzzle on a card table.
Us kids would chuckle as we’d see many pieces in the wrong places. We’d slowly, methodically sneak them into the right spots. Occasionally she’d pick a piece, try it in a few different places only to set it where it “may go” and use her fist to pound it into submission. We’d leave the misplaced piece alone for a bit and then stealthily move it to its true home. We understood she enjoyed easier puzzles and needed a little help on the more difficult ones.
When I was old enough to drive I had a lesson in church about listening to our elders. The teachers encouraged us to document some of the stories our Grandparents could tell us, effectively preserving history. I decided I wanted to know more about Olive and made a day to go sit with her and see what she had to say.
I remember arriving and she was not in her wheelchair. She was propped up in bed and smiled as I entered the room. There was a chair next to her bed so I came close, gave her a kiss on the cheek, and sat down with pen and paper at the ready. I remember telling her what my objective was and asking her a few questions about her childhood.
I have no remembrance of what I asked or even what I wrote down. The notebook is long lost and yet the words written mean nothing to the beautiful lesson she taught me.
At one point I asked a question and she stared out the window. I waited patiently for the answer and after a while, I asked if she was okay. She replied with a wistful, “Isn’t it beautiful?”
I looked out the window in the direction of her stare. It had snowed the evening before and everything was covered in this beautiful blanket. Immediately to my eyes, I saw a barren apple tree. Naked of leaves and life, shivering with an inch of snow upon each bare branch. To me, it was a bit sad and forlorn. A reminder Spring and warmth were still a ways away.
So I asked,” You mean that tree without leaves and covered with snow?”
Her response forever changed me.
“No. Look beyond.”
I looked again.
Past that cold, barren tree stood a majestic evergreen. Tall, full, beautiful branches kissed with the blanket of white. The contrast was a sight that brought warmth to the heart. I felt myself settle in the serene moment.
In that one moment, I learned so much more from Aunt Olive. She had already taught us joy in perseverance. While she may have been confined her heart flew and I can not recall a negative word coming from her mouth. She never complained.
Going to her home was always a delight. I loved eating freely of the raspberry and blackberry bushes lining her driveway. The apple trees produced such sweet fruit and I sincerely loved doing puzzles with her. (To this day I devour them. Puzzles, that is.)
And yet, this special lesson is one I’ve cherished my entire life.
What we see before our eyes may not be pretty. It may be an ugly challenge to overcome. And yet, if you look beyond, there is beauty. There is something precious, uplifting, and inspiring.
Olive could have complained. She could have been miserable in her plight and ensured we all knew about it. Instead, she found the positive and the joy. She loved having us come visit, loved the connection and family. She always looked for the light.
I pray we can all be like my “Aunt Olive.”
I pray through this very divided mentality we find ways to come together and heal.
I pray the chasms of race, religion, gender, political preference can be filled in with compassion, understanding, and bridges of peace.
I pray we can come together as one race, one people, united in hope, relieving anger, alleviating fears, and encouraging harmony.