Massage Tales

Five Words

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I know a couple, quite elderly.  They have been married for more years than many people get to be alive on this earth.  The gentleman has been, until quite recently, very robust for his age.  Although he required a small bit of assistance to get into and out of his favorite recliner, he was otherwise very independent.  His wife was much more frail.  She slept much of the day and rarely ever spoke.  When she was awake, she frequently looked at him and smiled, her bright blue eyes twinkling.  He would take her hand and raise it to his lips for a kiss, ever the courtly gentleman.  He called her “Mama.”

Recently, though, he succumbed to various respiratory illnesses, and even though his body was vigorous, it was nearly a century old, so each illness landed him in the hospital for a longer period of time.  Each time he came back home, he was a little bit more weak.  More devices appeared around him, and the caregivers seemed closer to him for longer periods of time.  

Through it all, his wife, still quite frail, looked on him with love, affection, and a growing concern.  I knew them only like this, in their increasingly frail old age and decline.  I learned a few things about them very quickly, though.  Right away I learned that they loved each other with the kind of deep, realistic, daily-work love that is never depicted in poetry.  I learned that when they looked at each other, they each saw past their fading physical shells and into a long, shared life of which they were justifiably proud.  And I learned that Mama, at least, had gotten everything down to essentials.  

Mama rarely spoke.  And when she did, she said only “Thank you” or “I love you.”  In all the time I was near her, these were the only things I heard her say.  I have known for a long time that language is only one of many ways we have to communicate, but her limited vocabulary still struck me, especially since her husband was still so engaged in language and conversation.  

One day, however, watching her with her long-term caregiver, it dawned on me that she had things exactly right.  Her body was frail, she lacked energy to do more than what was absolutely essential.  She had distilled her actions down, and I finally realized, she had also distilled down her language.  

As I thought about it, if I could only say five words out loud for the rest of my life, could I think of a better collection than “Thank you” and “I love you”?  What other five words would serve to express my connection to the people around me?  How much more simple could it be?  Every time I visited them, and I saw her saying only “thank you” and “I love you,” I realized how much she had chosen to convey.  With her fading strength, knowing every word was an effort, she chose to say the words that kept her connected to all the people around her, and that told them how much she cared for each of them.  Could there be another five words more important?

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