By Kathy Berken
Easter Sunday morning I went out to my garage, carrying a basket of deviled eggs, prepared to drive the half hour to join the Friars for an Easter feast at the Franciscan Retreat house in Prior Lake, Minn., where I work. Outside her garage a few doors down was my neighbor “Frances” standing next to her bike. She was dressed for the 40-degree weather, all right. Winter pants, winter jacket, gloves and a stocking cap under her helmet. I wasn’t sure if she was coming or going, so I walked up to her and said cheerfully, “Nice day for a ride, eh?” (Well, it was cold but the sun was shining.) She was breathing hard and said, “22.5 miles today.”
Needless to say, I was taken aback. Humbled is more the word for it. It’s still March in Minnesota, the temperature is 40, but if she’s been out already, she must have started when it was freezing. The thing is, not that somebody would go bike riding in such cold weather so early in the season. The thing is that Frances is 85 years old. And her husband “John,” who is 85, often joins her.
I said to her, “You put me to shame, Frances. That’s amazing. I got out two weeks ago when we had that nice day and I barely made it 12 miles. And you did over 22?”
She looked at me with a serious face, squinted her eyes, pointed her finger at me and said, “Let’s be clear. I worked up to this. I started in February.”
I smiled and resisted saying, “That doesn’t make me feel any better!” To top it off, Frances has also been through a couple of bouts with cancer and had other serious health issues over the years, but she told me once that she was never going to let that get the best of her. She pointed to her legs and chest. “I walk the stairs, too, and get on the elliptical every day to keep these [legs, heart, and lungs] healthy.”
Frances is an Easter person. She truly proclaims the Alleluia we heard on Easter Sunday. She spends her free time sewing and creating things for people in need from the bolts of fabric she stores in the small apartment she shares with her husband. As you might guess, John likes to be out of her way. He spends a lot of time riding his bike to various libraries in the Twin Cities and anywhere he can meet friends and socialize. John rode his bike up to the crazy busy State Fair last summer just to have a cup of coffee with a buddy who runs one of the food booths. I see him often on the bike path, seeming to thoroughly enjoy his time being out and about, giving Frances time for her work.
They both had meaningful employment before retirement, have children and grandchildren they visit often, help regularly with “Meals on Wheels” and keep living the message of the Gospel, whether they talk about it to others or not.
When Jesus said that he would leave his Holy Spirit for us so that we could have hope in the life given to us, I think of Frances and John. Life gives us so many opportunities to be Easter people, no matter how old we are, or whether or not we can ride a bike 22-1/2 miles on a cold Easter morning.
Pope Francis said it well in his Easter Vigil homily: “Let us not allow darkness and fear to distract us and control our hearts. Today is the celebration of our hope. It is so necessary today.”
(Kathy Berken has a master’s degree in theology from St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minn. She lived and worked at The Arche, L’Arche in Clinton 1999-2009 and is author of “Walking on a Rolling Deck: Life on the Ark (stories from The Arch).”)