for Alice Reynolds' Book of Remembrance
The path that edges Ealing's finest park
is nine-tenths of a mile in length,
a walk a teenage girl with friends
might amble round in twenty minutes.
A young woman—let's say, an Oxbridge graduate,
professional, with a sharp, forensic mind,
wanting to be the person in control—
might stride it briskly, hardly noticing
an older lady, slow, clearly disabled,
gripping her sticks with fierce determination
step after shaking step, cheered on by friends
to circumnavigate this little patch of green
with an act of will that's quite exceptional.
Diseased cells and a random accident
brought this about. Stuff happens.
She did the physio. After a while she spoke
publicly again, walked to the front at church
to read the lesson. Consider it pure joy
when you face trials of many kinds,
because you know the testing of your faith
develops perseverance. From her wheelchair
she saw the potholes in the pavement, saw
how long a damaged body takes to get
from one room to the next; understood now
not everyone is strong, nor meant to be,
that fools not suffered gladly are still God's fools.
Outside was struggle, inside she was the same:
dauntless, unsentimental, generous,
frustrated but never self-pitying,
one change only brought on by answered prayer:
Lord, give me patience, and give it to me now!
There was no miracle, except, as promised, that
these three survived: her faith, her hope, her love.
Each week at the Monday group, when it was time
to pray, her prayers were always for her daughter:
perseverance is no mystery
when those you love depend upon the outcome.
And without trying, somehow she became
a quiet advocate for the not-noticed,
holding a mirror up to our assumptions:
don't judge a person by appearances.
Unless you knew her from before, or took your time,
you wouldn't guess who you were speaking to.
Once a year, till it got too difficult, she talked
to trainee physios and therapists,
telling them how the person in the body
feels about it all. They gave her rave reviews.
It must have been hard, I imagine, to give up
those treasures of control and competence
on which she'd built her management career.
Life is growth, then learning to let go,
finding that she could say "I appreciate
more of the basic things we take for granted."
Appreciating every step, each day with Alan,
making the most of their last summer,
with the Maze on the Isle of Wight.
Yet even at the end, ever pragmatic,
she kept a measure of control and care,
made sure her healthy organs would give hope
to others when she'd no more use for them.
She was not defined by disability
but undiminished spirit and concern.
Whatever you achieve in life now, Alice,
and we hope it will be long and filled with love,
something in it will certainly reflect
that distant summer day when your mum walked
with sticks, faith and sheer bloody-mindedness
three times around the edge of Walpole Park.
Liz Reynolds died in October 2014, aged 55, survived by her husband Alan and daughter Alice, having been disabled as a result of an operation to remove a benign tumour from her brain some years earlier. This poem was read at the Thanksgiving Service for her life at St Johns', West Ealing on November 7, 2014.
© Godfrey Rust 2014, firstname.lastname@example.org. See here for permissions.