On Patriotic Sunday there's no sermon. There's no Gloria Patri, no Affirmation of Faith. It's a one hour program of music, narration, pomp and circumstance surrounding the branches of service, their flags, uniforms, and songs. Military attendees are invited to wear their uniforms, and are asked to stand as the congregation honors them. Congregation members who would like to stand in memory of someone do that too. We sing patriotic anthems, we watch the jumbotrons as pictures flash of military family members. Solo, duets and ensemble groups sing to us. It's a one hour "Thank You" dedicated to freedom and those who provide it, secure it, defend it, fight for it, sacrifice for it, and protect it.
If you don't arrive by 10:30 you run the risk of, minimally, not getting to sit in your traditional spot. Much later than that, of not getting to sit at all. We arrived a hair past 10:30 and were able to squeeze in to a pew on the SIDE, not our regular center pew seat. First realization. LOVE the side seats. Don't think I've ever sat in a side church pew. Well. With the exception of a wedding.
So until the service began, I had a respectable amount of space between myself and the semi-elderly woman sitting beside me, whom I didn't know. Sitting beside her however, was a lady I do know. She introduced my immediate neighbor as her mother. We spoke briefly and the mother asked me if I was expecting anyone else, and when I said no, she motioned for me to move closer to her. "I think we're ok," I replied, "but thank you".
Thirty seconds later I felt a polite poke on the shoulder. "Are you expecting anyone else?" No, I replied, but thanks.
A minute and thirty later I felt a pokity poke on the shoulder. "Are you expecting someone?" No ma'am.
Forty five seconds later. Poke poke. "Are you expecting another person?"
I smiled at her and shook my head. No ma'am. We're all here. The sanctuary was getting fuller, noisier, busier. She was getting a little agitated. Her daughter, on the other side of her, patted her leg occasionally and looked at her and smiled often.
I began to take a visual inventory and realization of the probable came quickly. I hadn't noticed anything unusual about her appearance at first glance. Seemed low profile and mainstream enough. Upon second look however, I noticed she was wearing black socks with her black Sunday shoes. One was a crew sock and the other an ankle sock. Her pants bagged unnaturally in the lap, as if she had them on backwards. Her arms and hands were fidgety and she looked about the room with an unusual smile on her face- the kind of smile that says either "I'm uncomfortable here," or "I'm not sure where I am but I think I'm supposed to know".
During the ceremony she sang along with the choir on occasion, giggled at times there was nothing to giggle about, pointed to people on the stage speaking, and poked me several more times to ask if I expected another person. She enjoyed the service.
When the service was over I turned to her and said "It was a pleasure sitting beside you this morning." To which she replied, "Oh hi. Are you expecting anyone else?" No ma'am, have a wonderful week. Bye.
So here's the thing about Alzheimers. There's a wide disconnect between people who live with Alzheimers patients and people who encounter them occasionally. (Pretty obvious statement, huh.) But stay with me. Mama's daughter sat on the other side of her. The daughter is a woman I attend Bible Study with, worked VBS with, and talk to at church fairly frequently. Never has she mentioned her Mom has Alzheimers. During the service she didn't dote on her Mother, shush her or manage her. Mom's behavior and appearance was left of normal but within parameters of acceptable social behavior. She just easily allowed Mom to be herself and enjoy her hour, as daughter enjoyed hers. I expect there will be a time in the future when that is no longer possible for the two.
So I guess there are heroes that have Sunday church services dedicated to them (as well they should) and heroes that sit quietly in the pew with their Mom or daughter. There aren't anthems dedicated to Alheimers victims, there isn't a flag or a uniform. I came to the service looking forward to honoring our military heroes and walked away with a renewed and deeper honor of personal heroes, and the families of all.
As I told my pew neighbor that I had enjoyed sitting with her I put my arm around her shoulders. She immediately leaned in and smiled while looking up at me. Didn't have a clue who I was but she hugged right back. I choose to think "Are you expecting someone" really meant "I enjoyed sitting with you too but my brain won't let me say it right now".