Love is a Verb: Florence

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Catherine Thiel Lee is a chaplain, preacher and writer, working at University of North Carolina Hospitals and serving her congregation at Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship. She has a Master of Divinity from Regent College and has worked with refugee claimants in Vancouver, British Columbia. Catherine lives, plays, reads and lovingly tends a scrappy garden in Chapel Hill with her husband, Michael, and two sons.






Florence is a verb

God chose what is weak in the world.” 1 Corinthians 1:27

Florence knits hats for preemies.

We sit in her sparse assisted living facility

on the eve of her 98th year,

her fingers twisting cheap pastel skeins

into tiny scraps of warm beauty. “It’s good

for my hands — keeps them loose.”


“They told me to make some caps bigger.

Why is that?” she asks.

We talk about the NICU, how impossibly

small babies sometimes grow.

Month after month, specialists gradually

withdraw medical interventions as lungs settle,

guts mature, hearts beat stronger.

The older ones need hats too.


She imagines a mirror of

her institutional life, rows of

isolated souls persisting despite the odds,

lives extended beyond expected time.

“I have seen so much change,”

she marvels. “I just want my work

to be useful. I want to help

and to be sure things fit.”


Through the afternoon her fingers fly.

She laughs, grimaces, and sighs through

stories and details. Later on the phone

her daughter tells me the new meds

must be working. Not every day

on hospice is so lively.


Florence speaks her joys,

her loneliness, her worries, her sorrow

that food no longer tastes but

she keeps eating. “I have to

keep my strength up.”


“Don’t grow old, that’s my advice.”

We share a sad, sly smile, both knowing

neither will receive her counsel.

We are too alive to cease,

made to keep moving through this beloved world.


Despite arthritis, despite pain

with all sorts of names,

she ties cords of wool,

tucks another streaming tail along

brittle fingers, back around

to wreath soft, round skulls,

still-forming minds barely protected.


Life resigned to its fading end

reaches out with cracking joints towards

life fighting for its desperate beginning.

Like a frail, inverted volcano

she erupts quietly back into the earth,

absurd circle of the weak

warming the vulnerable.

Love — active, poured out — which could

shake our foundations.



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2 thoughts on “Love is a Verb: Florence

  1. Wow. This is beautiful and haunting. We need reminders of the beauty at the end of life, and as a preemie mama, I am all too aware of the vulnerability of both birth and death. Thank you for this reflection, and for sitting with Florence.

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