In his weakness, he has no choice but to submit to their strength. Thank God the hands of the two paramedics - one male, one female - are gentle, and caring. Thank God the words coming from their mouths are respectful, meant to encourage and strengthen, to guide and direct.
With strong arms around his shoulders, they lift and then ease him over to a sitting position at the edge of his hospital bed. It's chrome and cranks and overhead trapeze bar are strangely incongruent in this homey little apartment bedroom. But he wants to be here, in familiar surroundings, not in a nursing home, and he hangs on as best he can to every shred of independence available to him. That's a difficult thing when nerves and muscles have been ravaged from a disease long in the past and his body just won't work for him anymore. His legs buckle and flop instead of obeying as they should. Strength in his arms once helped to overcome the weakness in his lower extremities but that strength has been draining fast in recent months. His lungs are too worn out to keep up at all and every slight exertion causes him to gasp for breath, even when the oxygen is turned up as high as the doctor allows.
One of the paramedics, the male, bends over him now as he perches precariously on the edge of the mattress. "Put your arms around my neck", he is told gently, but authoritatively, "then I'm going to hug you under your arms, lift you, and pivot you over to the wheelchair..." He follows orders like the old soldier he is and looks as small and weak and vulnerable in this service provider's arms as any adult I have ever seen. He is my father. The one who used to swing me up onto his strong shoulders; who held me squriming and giggling while he gave me whisker-burn kisses, and who would flex his biceps and allow us kids to marvel at the astonishingly huge lumps of muscle bulging in his upper arms. A man who despite his disability built his own house and created gardens in the black soil of his small back yard to produce unbelievable amounts of tomatoes and raspberries and other produce to nourish his family. I reach across the bed to help the other paramedic pull his pyjamas up into proper position as he is lifted into his chair and I see an angry red bedsore peeking out from the band of elastic around his waist. It's looks awfully painful, but he has never complained. Were I not seeing it myself, I would probably never know.
This is a difficult thing to explain, but somehow, in this profound vulnerability, in the giving over of his failing body to those who are younger and strong enough to support, I see a strength that amazes me and causes tears to sting my eyes. I see a man with a body that is broken and worn out, but whose courage is equal to a hero's in my eyes. I realize in this moment what strength it takes for this proud and independent father of mine to yield, to put his trust in those who are stronger than himself and to allow himself to be helped.
I hope he knows how precious he is to us and how each moment we are able to spend with him is treasured. I hope he knows that as far as we are concerned he has some loving and living to do that isn't finished yet - and could never be finished this side of heaven. I hope he knows we realize he has much to complain about - and yet he doesn't complain. He chooses to be happy and gives back to us in measures of love and genrosity far more than we could ever give to him. He has modeled for us what a valuable gift we can give our children as we age - simply being content, as he is, with whatever our lot in life has come to be. I think the greatest gift my father gives to us lies simply in the acceptance that he has value to us and that he lets us love him just as he is. The way he loves us - with no strings or expectations attached.
When Belinda's father-in-law passed away, I remember her Paul saying of his dad, "He taught us how to live, and he taught us how to die." I am understanding better now what that must have meant to Paul as he watched his father bravely edge closer and closer to eternity's door and then finally succumb. I am grateful for a father who may have failed in some ways - we all do - but he has become an incredible example to us of how to love and how to live. He has shown us great strength in weakness, and what incredible power there is in simply being content. I had no idea who my father really was - and is - until I see how he handles weakness - with incredible strength. Unbelievable strength.
I remember when we were much younger, tussling it out with the neighbourhood kids. "My dad's better than your dad!" "Yeah? Well, my dad has the biggest muscles!" "Well, my dad's stronger!"
Well, kids, we won that war, hands down. God has given us three Saunders kids the best dad in the whole wide world. I have no doubt about that.