May 14th, 2020
I made soup yesterday. In particular, I made an organic, vegetarian bean soup. I am not a vegetarian by any means, but the recipient of the soup definitely is. I cooked the soup for a friend of ours who has been sick for quite a while. She’s been really sick. Cancer kind of sick.
Karin and I have known this woman for probably over twenty years. I’m not sure any more. That’s the odd thing with friendships: it is hard to remember how they begin. I do remember that we met the woman at a Lutheran service that was being held at Germanfest in Milwaukee on a sunny Sunday morning. Germanfest is a massive outdoor festival that is annually held on the Milwaukee lakefront in July. If a person comes on Sunday morning with a donation for a food bank, they get in for free. We came on that Sunday morning with a cans of food in our hands.
Karin and the woman are both from Germany, so they hit it off. They are both from wine-growing regions. The woman is from the Mosel area, and Karin grew up in the Taubertal. The young woman had a small daughter. Our kids were little then too. We exchanged contact information (using pen and paper: old school). I think that Karin met up with the woman once or twice after that. Then we lost track of each other.
Sometime in 2001 our friend from Germanfest contacted us. She wanted to know if we were interested in joining a German-language Bible study group. Karin and I agreed to come. I was leery about this at first. I had good reason to be. With the exception of one feisty Catholic nun, Sister Diane, everyone else we met was some sort of Baptist/Evangelical. Seeing as Karin and I were part of a tiny Catholic minority (Karin had just converted to Catholicism a couple months before we started going to the Bible study), there were often strong differences of opinion in the group about the meaning of Holy Scripture. We had many spirited discussions. We spent six months just talking about the Beatitudes.
We met with the Bible study folks nearly every weekend for almost a decade. We got to know the other members of the group intimately, and we grew to love them. We got to know their families. We began to understand their struggles, and they sympathized with ours. At some point, the members of the group drifted apart. That’s just how things happen. We all tried to keep in some kind of contact, but our lives moved in different directions.
Our kids grew up. Our eldest son, Hans, went to war in Iraq. The woman’s daughter got into heroin. The girl gave birth a baby boy. The daughter ran off with her boyfriend, and our friend from Germanfest was left to raise her kindergarten-age grandson.
Then the woman got cancer. It was in her neck and on her tongue. She tried to natural remedies and a strict organic diet, hoping against hope that the tumor would shrink.
The woman went to the Mayo Clinic for surgery a couple weeks ago. The operation went well. She is at home now. I texted her to find out if she wanted me to bring her something to eat. She called me back, which surprised me, considering she had surgery on her tongue. She said that I could stop over whenever I wanted.
I drove to her condo yesterday afternoon. I took the soup along with me. It was a taco bean soup, but I didn’t know if the woman could handle spicy foods, so I left taco seasoning in the package. She could add it if she want.
I rang the buzzer to her home. I saw the woman’s husband looking at me from their doorway. He unlocked the gate to let me inside the courtyard. I saw a little boy standing next to the man. It was the grandson.
I walked to their front door. The husband said “hi”, and another Bible study friend greeted me. She was there to watch young boy.
The grandson looked up at me and asked,
“Who are you?”
“Are you here to see Oma?”
“I nodded, “Yes.”
The youngster gave me a hard stare. “I’ve seen you before. Was it at Oma’s birthday?”
“I don’t remember. It was a long time ago.”
The boy thought, and then he asked me, “Are you going to walk in the woods with us?”
I paused to think. I didn’t know the situation at their home, and I wasn’t comfortable with inviting myself in.
Our other Bible study friend told the grandson cheerily, “Frank isn’t wearing his hiking shoes today. He probably won’t be walking in the woods with us.”
The boy looked at me and said, “Oh.”
I walked through the threshold of the house. It was dark inside. The curtains were all drawn shut. I handed the container of soup to the husband. I watched him place it on the kitchen counter.
I turned around and I saw the woman. She looked much smaller and much thinner I had ever seen her before. She was in a bathrobe, standing in the dimly lit hallway.
She said in her German accent, “Frank, how are you?”
“I’m alright. Just tired. And you?”
She shook her head. “I just woke up from a nap.”
She walked slowly toward me and gave me a hug.
I hugged her back as gently as I could. She was so frail. I worried that she might break.
She stepped back a pace. I looked at her throat. She had a ragged red scar on her neck. It was shaped like a giant fish hook. It hurt just to see it there.
I gathered my thoughts. “Karin has got a cold, so she didn’t come. She wants you to know that she is praying for you. She put you on our church’s prayer list. Okay. I remembered what she wanted me to tell you.”
The woman gave me a wan smile, and said “Are you going to stay?” She was struggling to get the words out of her mouth.
“Uh no. I’ll just head back home.”
She looked at me more closely, “Are you sure? Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m tired. Just tired.”
I said goodbye to her, and walked out.
I felt exhausted.