My husband has a big heart, yet sometimes he over-extends himself by giving too much, sometimes at the cost of his own time and well-being, which sometimes impacts me — like it did this weekend — but not in the way I thought.
On Friday afternoon, he told me wouldn’t be home until late that night because he needed to attend a church service in memory of his boss’ mother, and then had to drive his 87-year old friend Rose to the burial service on Saturday. I about lost it since it infringed on sacred time we needed together because his traveling schedule is hectic in the coming weeks, and I also knew he needed ample down time in his already high-pressured job and schedule. I know when he doesn’t have adequate rest, his stress meter rises, setting off smoke alarms, so I’m extra fierce when it comes to demanding boundaries around his big heart.
He finally did compromise with his surprise weekend plans, by just stopping by the church only for a few minutes on Friday evening to pay his respect, and coming home early enough for dinner and a movie. But he did drive Rose to the funeral on Saturday, which meant an hour driving, and then back to her home. He had met Rose this past year during his work distributing a feature film about the Holocaust. She’s a Auschwitz survivor, who also just lost her husband of over 60 years two months ago, who died rather quickly after being diagnosed with stage four melanoma. She’s also friends with my husband’s boss, and although she still drives, the funeral was far from her home, so she asked my big-hearted husband, who has also become a trusted friend, to drive her to the funeral, and be to be her companion.
It wasn’t until I met her in the car for the first time on Saturday, when they picked me up after the funeral (we were driving her home and then heading for a hike), that I understood my husband’s big heart. I saw an attractive woman elder woman in the throes of grieving her husband she’s known since she was 17-years old, who seems as if a rug was pulled out from underneath her, shocked she no longer has a husband. My inkling is she also needs a friend who allows her space to feel. And I saw how my husband, so kind, is someone she has grown to trust, someone she adores, and needs. I learned he comforted her during weeks of grieving her husband’s death by calling her often, and how she’s shared, over time, the horrific details of her time in Auschwitz. My husband, unafraid to ask hard questions, gets to the heart of emotions. He has a gift of offering hurting people a sweet kind of inspirational love and comfort sprinkled with hope.
As my big-hearted husband drove down the highway, Rose shared with me the glimpses of horror, hunger, evil, disorientation and disbelief of her teenage years in Auschwitz, before being moved to another camp. She shared how she couldn’t talk about the horror, even with her husband who she met after the war, who also survived the camps, and how she told her children that the tattooed number on her arm was her phone number. She said, “we just had to go on, we were working and raising a family, and we couldn’t go there. We just couldn’t.”
It was one Jewish man in the camp she said who saved her life by telling her to lie about her age. “Say you are 18-years old when they ask”, he said. He knew they were using the older children to work, a reason why her two older sisters also survived. Her younger siblings didn’t, along with her parents. They were sent to the gas chambers.
She showed me the blurry tatoo numbers on her arm as waves of nausea tumbled through my body, groans too deep for words. I held her hand as tears came from her eyes. How could I fully understand?
I told her I read the Third Reich when I was thirteen, it was one of the few books on a small bookshelf in our den. I told her that I never understood the lack of resistance, that the world let this happen. She said she knows. No one cared. They were like animals.
How could I ever fully understand, but I could listen, and hold her hand, pain and anger to great for words chained in the chambers of my heart.
I ask her how she thinks about God now.
A moment of quiet, then she said, “I have questions”.
I say out loud what I was thinking; that her life now with four successful sons and many grandchildren living nearby is a miracle, that her story reminds me of the story of Job –and mercy and renewed life born from tragedy.
But, still, I too, have questions. I do not know the answer to the most difficult question — why does a loving God allows such horror and suffering?
I say my goodbyes and hug Rose tightly. She apologizes for taking my husband from me this morning. I say, no, no, you are a gift to me today.
I leave with a heavy heart as she walks in the door alone. I want to be with her to take away her loneliness. I pray for her comfort.
I realize I cannot hold the collective grief and pain of the world, of those like Rose who experienced, so intimately such evil, who now faces life without her beloved husband. But I can love. I can love like Christ loves. That is what I can do.
I write now to release the groans to deep for words with the hope that you all, the wider community of Godly listeners and big hearted, will help me hold her story, and that we can be a choir of voices that help the world never forget.
I now think of our Saturday drive with Rose, how our Ford Mercury was a sanctuary, a container to hold Roses’s grief and her story, my husband’s big heart a pillow, and my need for humility.
I realize, what I learned about my husband’s big heart this weekend was not that I needed to set boundaries around it, but I needed to embrace it and learn it’s lessons — that sometimes our big hearts are called to connect us with other’s hearts, to offer comfort where comfort is needed.
I learned that Christ is in my husband’s big heart.
I had the honor this weekend, too, of meeting an incredibly vulnerable, yet strong, feisty, courageous, intelligent and sharp-minded woman, Rose, who I also learned speaks in communities about surviving the Holocaust, who is a beacon of hope and living testimony of surviving against all odds. I understand more deeply what Jesus meant by and ‘blessed are those who mourn’. And by all this, I was blessed.
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