I first met Elaine during my first week working in the coffee shop. She was in a wheelchair and had just finished a grueling 5 hours of dialysis. She could hardly hold her head up, she was drained of all her energy.
As I watched her, she started wheeling the chair in my direction. She was a little woman, white haired and pale, with a small frown on her face, the type of frown that comes from dealing with years of pain. I decided right then and there that she and I were going to be friends. For all I know, she was probably thinking the same about me.
She came up to the counter got out of her chair and asked for a cup to get herself some coffee. We started to talk. I think we were “feeling” each other out to find out what sort of person we were.
We became friends. She was coming for dialysis on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday of every week which pretty much meant that she was housebound and couldn’t do any traveling.
Over the many months of our friendship I became very fond of Elaine and began bringing her coffee to her. I couldn’t bring myself to charge her, knowing that she (and I) looked forward to our meeting I wouldn’t spoil it by taking her money. She was a friend not a customer.
Almost a year in to our friendship she told me that when she was younger she played the piano at her church. Her community was the Tripolis Lutheran Church which only about five miles south of Kandiyohi where my church, St. Patrick’s is located. I had been in her church one year for a service celebrating Thanksgiving. She was very happy to hear this and I asked her if she would play the piano for us on her next visit. She promised that she would if she felt up to it.
On her next visit I anxiously waited for her to finish her treatment so she could play for us. She was pushed out of dialysis and she sat there with her head down, so weak she couldn’t hold it up. I poured her the usual half a cup of coffee and she couldn’t drink it. She told me that it gets like this sometimes, she got sick during treatment and couldn’t hold anything on her stomach. I was very concerned for her as she was being pushed to the elevator and I Prayed.
I know that we were brought together by the love of Christ, as Merton wrote: everyone is brought into our lives by the Spirit for a purpose. We may not know and we may not ever know why but sometimes He shows us His love through others and I think that is what I was experiencing, God’s love in the eyes of Elaine.
I waited for her at her next visit and found that she had been admitted to the hospital. I found out what room she was in, fixed her a cup of coffee, and went to her room. She was so happy to see me, I thought she was going to cry, I thought I was going to cry...
After a couple more days in the hospital she was allowed to go to a nursing home to recuperate before going home. I asked her how she liked the nursing home and she stated that it was alright but she had to get home because her husband was lonesome and needed her. Listening as she spoke of her husband, I realized that her statement could be turned around, she truly missed her husband and their home. She went home after a week.
On her next visit to dialysis, I was very busy which is unusual for that time of the day. Suddenly I heard someone playing the piano. It was a hymn, one that I have heard a thousand times and it was being played so well that it made me want to sing. I looked up and there was Elaine at the keyboard with a wonderful smile on her face, doing something that she loved to do, play her favorite music and she played it wonderfully!
Elaine has had her ups and downs over the past year, in and out of the hospital and nursing home. She took all of this with a smile and never complained. She just wanted to live a somewhat normal life with her husband and to be able to go to her little country Church and worship her God.
Once she told me that she really didn’t know how we became such good friends but she sure was glad we are friends because she cared a lot about me. I was thinking, I know how we became friends; because God brought us together to understand His love for us through each other.
One day as I was giving Elaine her coffee, she looked up at me, smiled and started singing. It was beautiful hymn. The years melted from her face as her voice traveled throughout the lower and first floor of the hospital. She was a wonderful singer. I can see her sitting at the piano in her Church playing and singing. It must have been a joy for everyone that heard her. As I watched her sing tears welled up in her eyes and I couldn’t focus either. I think that at that moment both of us knew who had brought us together.