Catherine Thiel Lee is a chaplain, preacher and writer, working at University of North Carolina Hospitals and serving her congregation at Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship. She has a Master of Divinity from Regent College and has worked with refugee claimants in Vancouver, British Columbia. Catherine lives, plays, reads and lovingly tends a scrappy garden in Chapel Hill with her husband, Michael, and two sons.
Florence is a verb
“God chose what is weak in the world.” 1 Corinthians 1:27
Florence knits hats for preemies.
We sit in her sparse assisted living facility
on the eve of her 98th year,
her fingers twisting cheap pastel skeins
into tiny scraps of warm beauty. “It’s good
for my hands — keeps them loose.”
“They told me to make some caps bigger.
Why is that?” she asks.
We talk about the NICU, how impossibly
small babies sometimes grow.
Month after month, specialists gradually
withdraw medical interventions as lungs settle,
guts mature, hearts beat stronger.
The older ones need hats too.
She imagines a mirror of
her institutional life, rows of
isolated souls persisting despite the odds,
lives extended beyond expected time.
“I have seen so much change,”
she marvels. “I just want my work
to be useful. I want to help
and to be sure things fit.”
Through the afternoon her fingers fly.
She laughs, grimaces, and sighs through
stories and details. Later on the phone
her daughter tells me the new meds
must be working. Not every day
on hospice is so lively.
Florence speaks her joys,
her loneliness, her worries, her sorrow
that food no longer tastes but
she keeps eating. “I have to
keep my strength up.”
“Don’t grow old, that’s my advice.”
We share a sad, sly smile, both knowing
neither will receive her counsel.
We are too alive to cease,
made to keep moving through this beloved world.
Despite arthritis, despite pain
with all sorts of names,
she ties cords of wool,
tucks another streaming tail along
brittle fingers, back around
to wreath soft, round skulls,
still-forming minds barely protected.
Life resigned to its fading end
reaches out with cracking joints towards
life fighting for its desperate beginning.
Like a frail, inverted volcano
she erupts quietly back into the earth,
absurd circle of the weak
warming the vulnerable.
Love — active, poured out — which could
shake our foundations.