Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A good word.

*names, details, stuff changed for anonymity. . .you know what's up.
image credit

Grady Wards 2011

I was rounding one morning alone and came to the room of one of my patients. Mrs. Menefee was memorable; an octogenarian with wise, twinkling eyes and smooth, espresso-colored skin. Usually I found her fast asleep during this hour but today she was awake when I arrived. Wide awake.

She was sitting with her back to me; her legs were off of the side of the bed and her bony spine was curved over the bedside tray table. I slowed my footing and watched her for a moment wondering what had her awake so early. As I approached her bed, I could see that she was reading the bible and taking notes on a spiral notepad.

"Good morning, Mrs. Menefee," I greeted her with a voice loud enough to get her attention but soft enough not to startle her.

She slowly craned her neck toward the right and smiled. The light from the window bathed her face, her notebook and her bible. "Hey baby," she replied over her shoulder followed by a clearing of her throat. Her voice still had the cobblestones of early morning in it; I could tell I was the first person she'd spoken to since awakening. She kept her face sideways; the perfect outline of her distinct silhouette was like some work of art.

"It looks like your fevers went away. How do you feel?"

"I feel a whole lot better, Dr. Manning. I sure do." I walked around to face her and leaned on the window sill. She seemed to like this gesture, and let me know that by putting down her pen to give me her undivided attention.

"Your lab tests look much better, too. The white blood cells are now back to normal, and your sodium level--you know, the salt in your blood--is back to where it should be."

She closed her eyes and patted her hand on the onion skin pages of her open bible. Her head nodded slowly as face grew distant and peaceful. I stood there waiting because I've been working at Grady long enough to know that Mrs. Menefee was in some quiet spiritual place.

Finally she opened her eyes and looked straight in my direction. She cleared her throat again and spoke, carefully and deliberately. "And it came to pass."

I furrowed my brow, unsure of to what she was referring. "Beg pardon?"

"And it came to pass," she repeated as if she thought I didn't hear her. "And it came to pass."

I waited for her to go on. When she closed her eyes and didn't say anything more, I decided to gain clarity.

"Is that what you were reading this morning? In the bible?"

With her eyes still closed she nodded slowly. I glanced down at the notebook with her wobbly cursive handwriting. Bible scripture after bible scripture was written long hand--carefully and delicately--like the way people sign mortgage papers at closings or the inside of a passport.

"Mmm, mmm, mmm. That's my favorite thing in the bible. You know, cawse that? Now that's a good word!"

Hmmm. I thought of the many, many, many times those words appear in the bible and began to try to wrap my mind around which of the five trillion references she could be talking about. "Which scripture is the one that you like with that in it? Isn't that in there a lot of times?"

"I like all of 'em. Every one of 'em. Cawse every time it come up, no matter where it come up, it's a good word every time." She released a knowing chuckle. Like she knew something I didn't.

A good word.

Honestly? I'm a woman whose people are from the second hole on the bible belt and who lives on the third hole, so I knew exactly what she meant by that term "a good word." Not "a good word" as in the kind you put in for someone when they're trying to get into your residency program or sorority, but "a good word" in the context that the Grady elders use it. That kind of word refers to things in the bible or important lessons that life has taught one person that they passed on to someone else. A good word.

"You know life so funny," Mrs. Menefee continued, "So much stuff happen to you if you live long enough. One minute you happy, another you somewhere with hard times. If you make your eighties you start to burying your favorite people and maybe even some of your own chil'ren. You see so much. Life take you through so much."

I folded my arms and remained silent. I wanted to hear everything she had to say.

"When my husband went home to the Lord, I was so sad. And then my son, too. I had my own health problems and you know, once I lost my husband, financial problems, too. It's been hard sometimes to get by on my check." I thought about her fixed income and swallowed hard. Something about what she was saying made my face feel hot and my eyes start to sting with tears. Because this was hard, what she was describing, but despite that she was smiling. A big, peaceful, genuine smile. I pressed my lips together and nodded.

"It ain't nothin' so bad it need to bring you to your knees. Nothin'. I miss my husband every single day. My son, too. But I got my daughter and she good to me. She is. And today, I got my health, too. You know, I also got faith. A lot of faith, you know cawse no matter what it is, I always remember them words. Those five words."

I drew in a deep breath and took her cue. "And it came to pass."

"And it came to pass!" she repeated with a joyful cackle. She folded her bible closed and rubbed her leathery hand with its network of sharply demarcated veins over the cover. After releasing a soft sigh, she whispered it again, this time to herself.

"And it came to pass."

No matter who you are and no matter what you do or don't believe, there's just something to be said about hearing "a good word." Working at Grady takes you up close and personal with some gut-wrenching stories. Situations, circumstances, hardships, and shortcomings---some self inflicted, but many just life inflicted. Yes, we see and hear them all. But almost every day--and this is no exaggeration--I hear a good word. "A good word" worth pondering. Worth writing down somewhere. Worth sharing.

This was one of those times.

See, because Mrs. Menefee was right. Though it's hard sometimes, I like knowing that someone who buried her husband and her manchild can still look someone forty years her junior squarely in the eyes and say, "Ain't nothin' so bad it need to bring you to your knees." Cause that? Man, that's a good word.

Everyone has their own situations, circumstances, hardships and shortcomings, too. We all do. Those blemishes on your life's complexion that you wish never happened, those things that hurt you in the deepest parts of your soul. Some know harder times than others, but pain is universal. Most who have lived long enough have been there at least once. Maybe even more.


I always remember what Mrs. Menefee said punctuated by her delightful laugh.

"And it came to pass."

Because most things do pass. And while yes, some things like a tragedy or losing someone or missing someone who is no longer here can leave you with a gnawing pain that's always there, at some point it doesn't throb the same. You still might cry, but one day the remembering doesn't hurt so bad. The hurt doesn't hurt so bad. And yes. It comes to pass.

See? The point of hearing a good word is that you pass it on.

That's what I'm doing today. Maybe you might remember one that you can pass on, too.

Happy Tuesday.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . .the incomparable Mahalia Jackson singing the old Negro spiritual "Soon Ah Will Be Done."
This one is for Mrs. Menefee and the Grady elders. . . the keepers of intrepid faith and sharers of "good words."


  1. For your beautiful words, your gift in sharing, and your perfect timing...thank you.

  2. And along the same theme, my mental iPod is playing India.Arie's "This Too Shall Pass."

  3. Oohhhh Charmayne. . . .that's a good one!

  4. Thanks for this :)

    A Fellow Meharrian

  5. I am not a religious person but I know truth when I hear it. Thank you, always, for the good words and the stories of people who have lived long and are wise.

  6. I've been partial for a long time to these from Ecclesiastes -- Biblical Buddhism to me --

    "There's nothing new under the sun."


    "All is vanity."

  7. this was a good word! it blessed me! its why i prefer hanging around older people instead of my peers...most(not all) have wisdom to share.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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