I just finished reading “The Sweet By and By” from author (and producer of “The Color Purple”) Todd Johnson.
This book had been recommended by Scripps newspaper columnist, Sharon Randall.
The book centers around four women, residents and staff in a South Carolina rest home. Possibly not an immediately appealing topic. However, I trust Sharon Randall’s opinions and since I share my home with my 96-year-old mother, I thought it might be insightful, so I bought the book and read it this weekend.
The story was not quite what I expected and touched me on so many levels. The characters are so real, so funny, profound and sad. Even though I removed my reading glasses to wipe tear splatters from the lenses more than once, the over-all tone of the book is one of compassion and hope.
Todd Johnson obviously has a profound understanding and respect for the women in his book.
These women seemed almost to be composites of women from my own life. I could see my mother’s fierce pride and determination in the face of old age in Margaret. Rhonda could have been a high school classmate. As I read I wished my own life exhibited the compassion and patience of Lorraine’s.
One particular episode in the book made me think of all the women I’ve known in churches around the country and at AB Women’s gatherings.
In this excerpt I’m sharing here Margaret is in the hospital, dying. Lorraine’s daughter April is describing the scene:
I studied the circle of women, …young and old, family and neighbors, perhaps single, married, widowed. It is as though they arrived on a timetable, like a flock of migratory birds, their schedule neither agreed upon in advance nor communicated, as much as felt in the subtle first change of seasons. This is simply what they do. They come. They are called to stand watch, oddly, with no male presence. It is perhaps not that the men, with few exceptions, can’t take the pain. It’s the ambiguity that they can’t abide. And there is that to be sure, endless hours of waiting. Surely these stately creatures are the same everywhere, perched around every bed where someone lies helpless. They arrive one at a time, or in pairs, and they bring smiles and stories and concerned brows and open hearts, and most of all they bring time, they have all the time in the world, poured out like water, crystalline and pure. They lower their shoulders, they place their purses on chairs and they assume their places, familiar by instinct, either sitting or standing, circling the sick with wings of prayer and patience, protectors and mediators, watchers, slow and graceful, with the singular purpose of a great blue heron wading in shallow water, saving all effort for when it is most needed, the split second at which it catches a swimming fish in its beak, finally lifting off in flight, with no regard to the weight it carries, rising, as hope must, lighter than human breath.
That passage brought to mind Linda Lesniewski’s book, “Connecting Women” where she talks of the way women are innately programmed by God to gather together to nurture and sustain one another.
Here in the western US, too many of us lack that sort of nurturing network of women friends. Either family mobility or work, life-style choices or other situations combine to isolate many women of all ages.
It is my hope and prayer that when my time comes to greet that beautiful shore I may have a circle of watching, caring women such as those in Todd Johnson’s book to see me safely on my way.