Aunt Jackie loves doctors and pastors.
Her memory warps her past so that any hospital visit she’s had in the last years actually happened last week, and the highlight of her week almost always includes the sermon on Sunday, no matter who stands in the pulpit or what they say.
But it’s more than that. For her birthday a few years ago, we went out to eat at Golden Corral, that bastion of American excess. As we pile-drived mounds of mashed potatoes and swirled ice cream two feet high on cake cones, my dad asked Aunt Jackie what she did for her birthday earlier in the week. She told us about a dinner with her sister (my grandma) and brother-in-law (my grandpa). And her favorite moment of the dinner?
“When Bob prayed.”
Or Christmas day. Any Christmas day, really, not necessarily this year. We’re all gathered in my grandparents’ living room, and Grandpa hands out a litany he wrote to prayerfully enter into the festivities. Aunt Jackie’s assigned reading is Luke 2, and she reads through the passage at a lightning pace and she’s crying. The litany ends and we sing a few carols. Aunt Jackie sings the loudest and there’s a kind of hope pulling at the corner of her voice that makes you think that everything, all of it, is true.
Sometimes when we’re together, Aunt Jackie is asked to pray. I don’t remember a prayer where her voice doesn’t crack when she says the name “Jesus.” Always when we’re together, there’s a small pause in conversation, and Aunt Jackie looks at someone and says, “I love you.” This year, as she climbed out of a recliner, hips failing and feet shuffling, she looked at her mother (my great-grandmother) and said “Can I have a hug? I love you.”
Aunt Jackie loves so much. She loves our dog Rocket (“I love his fur; it’s so soft!”), dolls, trips to the hospital (“I went to the hospital! I had pneumonia!”), sermons, pastors, deacons, prayers, chocolates, coffee, her sister. She loves little things in big ways. She loves God. She reads her Bible, prays, sings.
I don’t love anything or anyone the way Aunt Jackie loves. She loves with precision and specificity, with faithfulness, power, pain, strength, hope, and eagerness. She loves full-bore.
There are a lot of things in this world that go unnoticed, and they slip silently away. I’m writing this because Aunt Jackie lets nothing slip away; the world is all right in front of her, full and bright. I’m writing this because I can’t let Aunt Jackie slip away, not even for a moment. She teaches me how to see the world and live in it. She teaches me how to love.