October 28, 2011

Emmaus Walk / Debra Tomaselli

I thought I was giving something up—instead, I gained a whole lot

Debra TomaselliI thought I was doing Mel a favor when I promised to visit him on Monday afternoons. Instead, I’m the one who received the gift.

My husband and I met Mel, a gray-haired and humble man, during Sunday Mass.

His words were garbled from the multiple sclerosis that kept him dependent on a wheelchair, but Mel’s eyes sparkled with joy. At first, we would simply say hello, but when we learned that he liked to write poetry, everything changed.

Much to Mel’s delight, we transcribed his scribbled verses. Through them, we learned that Mel was widowed, retired and prayerful. He had survived the Great Depression, joined the military during World War II and later managed a clothing store in Ohio. We became friends, staying and visiting after Masses.

Mel invited us to visit him at home anytime. Although I passed his apartment daily, I was too busy to stop. There were deadlines to meet, meals to cook and shopping to be done. Besides, he had all the housekeeping help that he needed. What could I really do for him?

Finally, however, I said, “I’ll stop by Monday afternoon.” I cringed, wondering how I would find the time. I dreaded the visit.

My daughter, Sara, accompanied me. After exchanging greetings, Mel entertained us with stories about his childhood, his wife and their square dancing days. The more we listened, the easier he was to understand. We learned that he even played the harmonica. Finally, Sara and I said goodbye.

As I unlocked my car, strains of harmonica music floated from Mel’s apartment. My eyes met Sara’s as we paused to listen to the joyful tunes. Oddly enough, we enjoyed the visit as much as he did.

Sara left for college, but I continued to visit Mel every Monday afternoon. We played his favorite board game, Rumique. He would study the numbers and strategize long before using his gnarled fingers to slowly push the markers into place. He persevered, focusing on what he could do instead of what he couldn’t. All the while, I learned from him.

There were other lessons, too. Mel prayed the rosary daily. “Something good happens when people pray a Hail Mary,” he once said. “Things may not work out, but we are receiving God’s help in some form or another. Maybe it’s not the answer we want, but it’s God’s answer for us.”

As his own health failed, Mel never complained. He bounced in and out of hospitals, but remained serene. About a year later, at age 90, Mel died. Sadly, I got my Monday afternoons back.

I would never trade that time because I learned so much.

Mel taught me that every life is precious no matter how aged or feeble. I learned that some things are more important than my agenda. I learned that when I surrender my time, everything still gets done.

There is joy in giving to others. I learned that disabilities may seem insurmountable, but they really aren’t. It doesn’t take much to make someone else happy. Making someone else happy makes you happier.

Thanks, dear Mel. And now, it’s Monday afternoon.

Where will I go?

(Debra Tomaselli lives in Altamonte Springs, Fla. Her column appears in several diocesan newspapers. Her e-mail address is dtomaselli@cfl.rr.com.)

Local site Links: