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Liz's walk

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 womanlet'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.