A Summer Visit with Roger & Mary by Joan Dennehy

We met in Sumner on a beautiful day. Roger is having a good day in a life of no-more-good-days, walking well, getting the things in the kitchen we needed for our ice cream and cherry pie—with Mary’s yummy homemade crust, of course. Roger has lived with Parkinson’s disease for 14 years and the last couple have been tough. Tough enough to keep them from the long trek north to attend worship. Nights are the worst. Night and day blend into one another. He said, “Loss of control is the worst thing about Parkinson’s. I have the choice of acceptance or rejection. There is no cure. There are more choices to make. I haven’t accepted it totally yet...hell no.” Before the diagnosis, testing his fine motor skills, he was asked to give them a handwriting sample. Roger remembers to this day what he wrote for them, “The Electoral College should be abolished and replaced by a direct popular vote.”

“I went to church more at my short time at Findlay than all my life before,” he said. “I wonder...what are they doing right now? I read the newsletter as a sociologist now...analytically ...what does this have to do with what I knew before?” Mary was raised in New York in the Episcopal church and taught children’s Sunday school since her teens. “My father would cut cartoons out of the NY Times to help the pastor with his sermons!”

When I asked them how their lives have changed because of this disease, Roger reminisced. “We went a year ago to a wedding of a grandchild in Chicago: the grandson of an English farmer and the granddaughter of a Chinese merchant. A wedding that went well between two people who genuinely love each other. Flying back home full of good feelings about the new family, I was in the Chicago airport with an adjustable walking cane that I could not adjust. A man from Africa came to help. We couldn’t speak each other’s language. It was a sixty second transaction. These days I am very aware of people’s kindness to me. I thank them. Random acts of kindness can be trivial and they can be much more than that. We are receiving more help. We used to react like we always did, oh don’t bother. Finally we learned to say yes when people want to help us.”

About the church moving to Beacon Hill Roger offered some advice: Give words of thanks to those who occupied the land before...was it the Duwamish people? Never say anything that
divides the “Findlay” people from the new Welcome Table people. No matter how you try to give away your power as the old-timer group, the newcomers often can’t feel it as such. Breaking ground should be a touching moment after all these years. We’ll be able to see the church constructed: we ride by on our way to the doctors at PacMed.

Their eyes were soft, twinkly, kind. Mary, with no agenda, does what needs to be done, what- ever it is, playing solitaire on her iPad when she can. It takes an awful lot of silent negotiating between them. Mary is hard-of-hearing and Roger is soft-spoken. Sometimes they resort to sign language. But they, too, love each other a great deal after all these years.

Roger’s goal is to finish collecting and writing the stories in his head that want out! Stay tuned next month for the “The Ecumenical Child.” Roger gave it to me to read out loud. When I finished he said with glad tears, “that’s a good story!” Yes, it is. And I thought of the joy there is in hearing one’s life reflected back to them.