Spirituality for Today – Summer 2018 – Volume 22, Issue 4

Five Smooth Stones

Janice Alonso

Amy walked to her car in the parking lot of the nursing home where her mother had lived for over a year now. A large rain drop splat in the middle of her glasses' lens, creating a one–sided blur on the sloping asphalt stretching out at her feet. Since she'd received the call last month that her mother had lapsed into a coma, Amy felt she'd existed the last four weeks in a minute–by–minute lopsided vision. Soon the tears streaming from her eyes washed away all clarity, leaving in their wake a watery turmoil of a misshapen landscape. Unlocking the door, she crawled into the driver's seat of her SUV. She buckled her safety belt, started the engine, and checked the time. 5:47. Anger and resentment wrestling with guilt and love would be her passengers for the long ride home. Traffic leaving Denver was already building, causing her usual hour and a half commute to extend another hour, eating away the too few hours left of her evening before her day would begin anew with overtones of Deja–vu. From the black clouds pressing down on the mountains hugging each side of I–70, there would be no breaks of sunshine in her journey home today – no relief from traffic, no relief from feelings of impending doom.

With weary–laden eyes, Amy exited to a drive–through of a fast–food chain to pick up a coffee: a little caffeine to jolt the low spirits. Back on the interstate and with energy to tackle the drive ahead, her mind shifted into reverse.

She'd been 7, her mother 27, when her father died. She thought back to that day the two policemen showed up on their front porch. Their expressions told the story. No words needed, not really. A day hike marred by a misstep had propelled the rock of their lives down into a ragged ravine. The fall hadn't been that far or hard. But when your neck snaps, what difference does it make? In the end, is there any point in discussing "what ifs" and "if onlys." The two of them were left to navigate a dark road riddled with potholes for the years ahead. A young widow and her only child remained to maneuver a life–scape with unannounced U–turns, valleys, and dead ends. But they'd discovered the sunshine, and they'd worked hard to stay the path. They had stayed the path. Fresh tears streamed down her face. Could Amy stay the path now? Alone? Faith is having the faith to stay the course no matter what.

Amy had been blessed to be born into a family with a solid Christian faith as its foundation. And faith had been their only inheritance. While their family had provided much love and support, nothing had appeared in monetary form: There had simply been none to share. So, it had been that faith which bred the courage for her mother to take her small child and venture into a 1950's world that was deaf to the term "single–woman–head–of–household."

With her mother as a role model, Amy had learned to be brave as well. Only a second grader, she stayed with a neighbor until it was time to walk to school after her mother left for work each morning. But in the afternoons, after school, she remained alone …the original latchkey kid. She became a big girl, had to. She even learned how to begin their meager, evening suppers.

Some days, her mother's bus ran late, or her till was out of balance at the bank where she worked, so she didn't get home until after dark. Only on those afternoons did Amy feel unsettled. The squiggly, eerie evening shadows dancing on the wall and the recollection of scary stories were her cache of companions and they placed her on edge, causing her fingers to curl tightly onto a book and her eyes to check the clock every five minutes. Her ears perked up at each sound in anticipation of her mother's keys jangling at the lock on the door.

Amy's eyes trailed downward and she smiled – her fingers held a death grip on the steering wheel. Taking a deep breath, she relaxed her shoulders, loosened her hold, and whispered the twenty–third Psalm.

But eventually the courage Amy had pulled together as her own "babysitter" took root and blossomed into confidence, a confidence which nudged her into a newer world and encouraged her to explore uncharted highways. She walked neighbors' dogs. When people were out of town, she watered their plants and collected their mail. And for a short while, she tutored a first–grader in reading. Those were her first experiences at earning her own money. But it was far more than the money. Amy discovered she liked taking on responsibility and helping people with their needs.

Amy smiled as she recalled her own mother's smile when Amy had shown her that first dollar she'd earned. She had swept back the hair from Amy's face and exclaimed, "Now we're a two–income family!"

Amy's confidence soared…she and her mom were a team. And from that day they had been a partnership in the deepest meaning of the word. Faith had built courage, courage had bred confidence, and confidence had spawned knowledge.

The more things they tried, the more they learned. The potholes in the road became trampolines. Every gully they encountered strengthened them to leap higher, propelling them forward, conditioning them to trudge up the rougher and higher bumps in their journey. When she was laid off by the bank while Amy was still in high school, her mother had acquired basic accounting skills. When Mr. Buckman's wife grew ill, her mom helped, first by providing meals, then by keeping his financial ledgers. Mr. Buckman may have been a high school dropout, but he was a genius as an auto mechanic. Her mom had done the payroll, sent out invoices, and kept immaculate accounting records for his CPA each year.

Amy had learned, too. As a college student, she typed term papers for friends and friends–of–friends for a fee. She also babysat evenings for a single mom nurse who worked the night shift at a nearby clinic. Life was by no means breezy, but it was a lighter load to bear.

Soon her knowledge from college combined with a hardscrabble existence was hammered into wisdom. It had been wisdom that united them, she and her mother, and led them to divergent paths, soon separating them. Her mom never remarried and over time became proudly independent, moving to a small Colorado town to pursue her love of pottery when she finally retired as Mr. Buckman's business partner.

And Amy? Amy married and had two sons – but even with her doctorate degree in English, she'd chosen to be a stay–at–home mom, putting her skills to use in literacy programs. Then two years ago, long after her sons had left home, she herself became a widow. She had moved out west to teach on a Native American Reservation. She'd sold everything, keeping little. The small, brown leather pouch her mother had given her on her wedding day was one of the few things she'd brought with her. Inside the pouch nestled five smooth stones. On each of the stones her mom had written five words – one word per stone: faith, courage, confidence, knowledge, and wisdom. Her eyes welled once more – she'd forgotten about that pouch in the last year, after the fall, after the stroke, after the coma. Her memory had dropped that pouch. And the stones? The five smooth stones had scattered so far that she doubted she'd ever find them again. She doubted she'd ever hold them in the palm of her hand, much less feel their presence in her resolve. But like Pandora's box, one spirit had clung to the bag: faith. Amy's mother was slipping away, but Amy would not let go of her faith. She would hold on with all her might.

These days her mother barely made an impression on the bed, but Amy knew that she still clung to her faith as well. And she knew that together they would gather the courage to go forward, the confidence to face each day and know that God would provide what they needed to get by for the next twenty–four hours. Together they would glean the knowledge from doctor's words and pamphlets about the journey toward death. And together they would have the wisdom to use what applied to them.

Even with their five smooth stones, they knew they would lose this battle with Goliath, the Death Giant. He would win the earthy scrimmage. But as a team they would rise to victory in the war for Eternal Life. And Amy had no doubt that when the day came, the hour and minute unknown, they would stand tall and their paths would diverge once more. And when her mother saw the face of God for the first time, He would smile and say, "Welcome, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!"