There are, on this planet, those to whom a creator has endowed with special gifts.
You may be thinking of gifts like super intellect, the skills of critical thinking, the ability to create the beauty of sight and sound through the arts of music, painting, sculpturing and the like.
But there are many other gifts that one can receive at birth. Gifts, that a person may enhance or waste depending on the infrastructure of their character.
Until this morning, while brushing my teeth, it had never occurred to me that the gift of giving, self sacrifice and concern for others was a blessing as valuable to mankind as the ceiling in a chapel, the invention of a drug that cures polio or the philanthropy of a Bill Gates.
I am blessed to know such a gifted person. Her name is Margaret Clarkson Fitch; she is my beloved sister in law. For over a decade, Margaret has been the source of income and the singular caregiver to my brother, Babcock, after he suffered a major stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side. Unable to create sentences, yet capable of understanding conversations around him, Babcock has most of those daily task you and I take for granted, accomplished for him by Margaret.
If we pause and think of every thing we do each day just to get dressed and perform our daily ablutions, it is a major effort. Now picture doing all that for yourself and for grown man who has the ability to physically do for himself about the same as a child in kindergarten. However, Babcock is not a child. He is a man with intellect, memories, ideas, loves, hates and all the good and bad that he was before he was trapped in a body where frustration with his condition must be crushing. Yet, he does not allow that frustration to dominate his life.
Although tragic for Babcock, his physical and mental limitations are also his needs that Margaret must see to every hour of every day for the rest of Babcock’s or her days.
There is no respite. No holiday from the routine of seeing to the needs of Babcock and herself. I have no idea what it must be like to see this as your destiny and face it cheerfully as Margaret does. Nor can I see, in myself, the strength to perform these tasks for posterity. For me, my weakness is a function of my inability to gracefully give up my time and dreams for a singularly more important reason to be on this earth.
Not so for Margaret Clarkson Fitch.
How I admire and envy this giant of a woman. Her seemingly endless supply of goodwill, effervescent good humor, positive attitude for the future and boundless love and affection for her husband, children and grand children defy suitable description. Yet, these traits shine through as we talk and share the contents of our days.
Margaret is like us in many ways. Her responsibilities weigh on her with a heavy load and challenge her ability to keep up with this physical and emotional roller coaster. She has found, however, some solace in her faith and in a group of women who, unlike her family, can engage her inner feelings without the complications of bloodlines and marriage. Margaret calls her friends a support group and perhaps this is what they are, but I view her support group as a surrogate sister providing emotional sustenance and protection for one of their own.
Last night, I was provided the singular opportunity to join Margaret and Babcock in a Monday night ritual that they share with three “sisters”. Each has an appreciation for beer, shrimp and a Greek salad. These women, whose ages range from seventy one to ninety, are swift of thought, imbued with the pride of their separate histories and possessive of a “Don’t tread on me” attitude that simply stands out as a beacon of their individual and combined strengths of character. This beacon shines as a star in the heavens. A star, whose light, illuminates and warms the heart, of their friend, Margaret. This, I now see, is the stuff of real love for a fellow traveler on our planet.
For good or bad, I am not one who dwells on the hereafter. Yet, I am completely at home with those who do and I connect the power of their beliefs to an uncluttered and familiar faith. A faith, that has the power to provide spiritual sustenance in the face of worldly travails. There is no blasphemy when I say that Margaret Clarkson Fitch has, without promise of reward, built a legacy of good deeds, “Stars”, if you will, that will serve her well in her place of eternal peace. Few hold the selfless and committed dedication to a fellow human.
I can only wish her well with the hope that she and Babcock continue to keep us in good company for many years to come. I offer a once treasured line of prose from the English translation of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as representative of the beauty that can come from faith well placed. “Almighty God, to whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Taken at Frank Taylor’s house in N. Virginia 1968