By Eve Marko 2/3/2016
The other day it hit 50 degrees Fahrenheit in Springfield. I come in to visit Bernie holding his jacket and say, “Let’s go outside!” He gives me the same look he’s always given me each time I suggest exercise, so I’m careful not to use the “H” word (as in, fresh air is healthy for you!). The nurse agrees it’s a great idea, especially as Bernie hasn’t been out since January 12. She helps him into his winter jacket, which I zip up, and we’re off in the wheel chair, down the hallway, down the elevator, and out through the front door of Weldon. Ahead of us is the pathway to the big Mercy Hospital, built by the wonderful Sisters of Providence Order, whose youngest member, I’m told, is 75.
“Isn’t this great?” I chirp.
Silence from the wheelchair. A left hand climbs up surreptitiously and winds the collar tighter around his throat. We move towards the front entrance, nothing much to see other than the big parking lot on the left, but the air is amiable, the skies gray.
“I want to go back,” he tells me.
“Back! We haven’t even been out 3 minutes!”
“How can you be cold?” He’s wearing the same old green jacket he wears at our retreats at Poland, along with a thick woolen hat, while half the folks around us are down to shorts and short-sleeve Tees, which is what happens in Massachusetts every time temperatures climb over 40.
“Cold. Need my red beret.”
I forgot that Bernie feels practically naked without his red beret.
We enter the hospital and I take him down the elevator to the basement connecting the hospital with Weldon. We’re completely alone. “Race?” I suggest, he smiles, and I run pushing the wheelchair down the two long corridors.
Back in his room I show him emails with songs from his Washington grandson Milo and photos of Ethan, Rebecca and Shai, his grandchildren in Jerusalem. We talk about plans for the Black Hills retreat in July. He reads certain emails, face moving left to right with the text because the corner of his right eye is still blurry from the stroke.
He’s happy to read announcements: meetings of ZPO regional circles, the initiative to go to Greece in April to work with immigrants. There’s a street retreat in Albuquerque, council training in Paris, a new circle on Art and the Three Tenets, the odd couple of Rabbi Shir and Sensei Paco going to Arizona to talk about our bearing witness retreats, and most important, an initiative to do selfies while putting on a red nose. He’s happy and forlorn at the same time, shaking his head. “I’m not involved,” he says sadly.