We had been planning it for weeks. The two-year anniversary of Peggy’s breast cancer surgery was a sweet milestone to savor. She is a survivor! And with each passing year her chances improve that the cancer will not return. The very best setting for this important occasion was dinner at home in front of our fireplace in the house that Peggy built. Fine aged Parrano cheese on crispbread wafers for appetizers, a crisp Romano salad, a good cabernet, thick fillet mignons on the grill, fresh corn-on-the-cob, lights turned low for some intimate conversation. We eagerly anticipated this special evening. Our hearts were so full of gratitude as we prepared the meal together. The dark fears that once plagued our days and stole away so much of Peggy’s joy had eventually lifted like mist before a morning sun. Every day had become precious. Our love had grown deeper than we could ever have imagined before the “invader” forced upon us a re-ordering of every priority.
The grill was heating when a car pulled into our driveway. Louise Adamson, an aged urban missionary who welcomed us when we first moved into the city, hobbled up to our front door. A distressed look on her face, she handed me an envelope that contained a letter from our housing ministry addressed to a low-income homeowner who had fallen far behind in her house payments. As I unfolded the letter, a returned check fell out – insufficient funds. Louise began pleading the case of this single mother who is raising her own child as well as the four children of her drug-addicted sister. We would work with her, I assured Louise. No, of course the mother would not be put out on the street. Back to the grill.
We were savoring our medium-well steaks when the phone rang. We decided to let the answer phone take it until our executive director Chris Gray’s urgent voice began recording the news that the mother of our administrative assistant had died suddenly. Peggy simply had to pick up and get the details first hand.
Another screened call. As soon as we heard the cheerful voice of Jonathan, our youngest, Peggy grabbed for the phone. He had remembered the anniversary and called to wish his mom well. And then he broke into song – an a cappella stanza of “happy anniversary to you.” Mamma was pleased.
Our corn-on-the-cob was well past ideal eating temperature when the phone rang again. It was Eddie, a neighbor down the street whose wife is seriously ill with an ailment doctors have yet to correctly diagnose. He wanted Peggy. He left his number and asked her to call as soon as she could. This might be something serious. We downed the rest of our meal and Peggy returned his call. Eddie’s mechanic job required him to wear a uniform to work and a button had popped off his pants. He needed them in the morning. Did Peggy have any buttons? And would she…a…mind…a…maybe sewing it on for him? “Of course,” she said, and studied my face to see if she could detect a trace of disappointment. There was none, only understanding and a deep sense of admiration for one so willing to give up part of her evening to help a neighbor. In a few minutes Eddie showed up at our door carrying a bundle of greasy-smelling work pants – seven pairs to be exact – all missing at least one button. We spent what was left of the evening watching TV while Peggy sewed buttons on blue trousers.
The final call of the evening was from Carolyn, a mother who leans on Peggy for support, especially when she is struggling to resist the powerful urges to return to her alcohol and crack habits. Peggy picked up. It had been a pretty good day, Carolyn said, though she hadn’t been able to eat anything – cirrhosis of the liver acting up again. Just needed to talk.
Peggy and I smiled at each other as we climbed the stairs to our bedroom. It was hardly the romantic evening we had fantasized. But it was special in its own way. It was a rather rich mixture of joy and pain, of deep gratitude and mild irritation, of tantalizing aromas and heavy automotive oil. It was a tolerable measure of life in the city – life that we have come to embrace as our own. We drifted off to sleep, hearts full.