As I walk through the produce aisle, I am aware that someone is watching me. From the corner of my eye I see her. She opens produce bags, does not fill them, moves closer to me.
“Excuse me,” I say. “Do you need help?”
Without hesitation she says, “I need your help. My daughter is writing a book. She’s in the hospital and will never leave. Can you help her?”
Six days later, after research, permits, I find myself walking the halls of a familiar hospital, to a place I rarely visit: the case study tower. The daughter is Ruth, 19. She has a rare genetic illness. I see arrows pointing toward Suite 401: “Isolation.” Ruth and I will speak through a thick pane of glass.
* * *
During our first visit we laugh about her initial adventures in the case study. The treatment has not eradicated a precious item:joy. The topic of her book surfaces. She holds up a large sketchbook. The drawings are beautiful! She is illustrating a book for her younger sister, Isabel. Both were adopted into their current family. Ruth remembers when as young girls they were dedicated in church as “the greatest blessing God has bestowed this family.”
Memories presented in sketches, scratchboard images with soft edges. The lives of two blessed little girls. The pictures are almost complete. Words are missing. She needs words.
* * *
For the next weeks I visit Ruth, listen, take notes of her words, view sketches. Ruth decides which of her quotes best describe each sketch. Every visit begins and ends with prayer, both of us holding our hands against the cold glass between us, inviting the warmth of the Holy Spirit to inspire. On the sixth week final sketches are done and lined up on the glass. These sketches show when Ruth was diagnosed, everyday Isabel visits; Ruth missing her, proud of her, praying for her. I notice the detail on the “sleepover sketch,” when Isabel and Ruth slept in gurneys with the thick pane of glass between them, as close as they would ever be. Ruth watches me, holding a pen. I shake my head no. Sometimes it is necessary to put the pen down and let the heart speak.
* * *
Soon the book’s cover page is done, and a sealed letter for Isabel is placed on the last page. Ruth smiles: “Every day you visit I pray, ‘Heavenly Father, when You close the day, may all we have done please You, and may You say: time well spent.’”
At 2:00 a.m. the phone rings.“Hello, it’s Frank, Ruth’s father. About an hour ago . . .”
* * *
Months later I sit in my office, hear the soft knock. “Hello, Dr. Rodriguez? We met briefly, but you may not remember me.” I remember you, Isabel.
As we sit in the cafeteria, she offers grace over the meal: “Heavenly Father, when You close the day, may all we have done please You, and may You say: time well spent.” As we share stories, glimpses of Ruth teaching her little sister, the prayer crosses my mind. Heavenly Father, it was an honest, good book.
Dixil Rodríguez is a university professor and hospital chaplain, who lives in Texas.