Jack and I hold a Society of Friends meeting (Quakers) once a month in our bookstore. The other Sundays we attend one block up the street, in a small congregation with a kind pastor, a wise church council, and a kick-butt organ-piano duo.
Last year, the church lost one of its members after a lengthy illness. Verna was married to a man who clearly adored her as much as she did him. While her ability to walk dissolved, she leaned on his arm; when it was gone, he pushed her wheelchair. We laughed and joked and talked with her as we’d done every Sunday, pretending we didn’t see. Verna was a dignified woman; always carefully dressed and coiffed, she waited in her pew ahead of everyone else once the chair was in play, so we wouldn’t see her entrance and exit.
As her motor skills slipped, she finally had to sit in the wheelchair in the aisle rather than in her pew with Bill. He moved to its outer edge. During the hymns, he would hold the book in one hand, and reach down to touch Verna’s hand or shoulder with his other. Throughout the sermon he would periodically lay his arm across the back of her chair. It looked uncomfortable.
It looked like love.
Losing weight and bundled in a thick blazer over her sweater, Verna had for the last year or so kept a fleece blanket in tasteful muted colors folded across the back of the pew she shared with Bill. When she moved into the chair, the blanket was returned at the end of each service to its accustomed spot.
Jack and I were away when Verna died, so missed the funeral. Bill was gone about a month, then came back to the pew where he’d sat for so many years with Verna. Meanwhile, her blanket, folded neatly, lay in its accustomed place across the back.
Of course we don’t need a blanket to remind us of Verna, but we like having it there. We smile and joke and touch Bill’s shoulder as we shake his hand, and invite each other over for Sunday lunches. No one in our tiny congregation ever mentions the blanket.
We don’t need to. Like Bill’s arm, like Verna’s dignity, it’s just there: quiet, unassuming, there.