I work at a religious university, and sometimes, a church leader will come to talk to us at the beginning of a new school year. One fall, a well-known leader was to come, and we all looked forward to hearing from him. He would also be bringing his wife, and sometimes we got to hear from those incredible women, which was fun because it gave some insight into the dynamic of these companionships.
This leader, whom I will refer to as Elder H, was advanced in years, already well into his nineties, but his mind and wit were sharp. He was fun to listen to, and he always had some gems of wisdom for us. The day finally came for his visit, and we packed the hall. There was the regular opening for the meeting, along with a few announcements for the beginning of the new school year. Finally, it was Elder H’s turn to speak.
He struggled to get up from his seat, and one of the school administrators stood, gave him a hand, and helped him to the pulpit. Elder H got a firm grip on the podium and started to speak.
He spoke for over an hour, sharing stories from his youth and wisdom from his years. His wit and humor were as great as ever, and even with the infirmities of his age, his mind was sharp. We laughed at his stories and gained insight from his thoughts for us. And even though he spoke for a long time, it seemed like no time at all as we sat enthralled with what he had to say.
But as he continued, suddenly, his wife coughed. She coughed a little at first, and I know my attention was drawn to her. I was just turning my attention back to Elder H when his wife coughed again, this time much louder and for a longer time.
Once again, my attention was drawn away from Elder H as I felt a deep concern for his wife. Her coughing stopped, and once more I turned my attention back to Elder H. But it wasn’t too long until Elder H’s wife started coughing again, even louder and longer than before. This continued for a few more times with her seeming to be over the coughing, only to cough again even louder and stronger.
We were all becoming so worried for her that I’m sure no one was getting anything else out of the meeting. In my group, we started discussing what we could do. The administration didn’t do more than whisper to her, to which she shook her head. Apparently, she was telling them she was okay, yet her cough seemed otherwise.
Finally, after another coughing episode, someone jumped up and ran out. Soon they were back with a cup of water. The person rushed to the stand and handed it to the college president. The college president crossed the stand, knelt by Elder H’s wife, and held out the cup of water. But instead of taking it, she leaned forward and whispered to him.
The president chuckled, stood up, put his arm around Elder H’s shoulders, and spoke to him. I could not tell what he said from my position back in the hall, but when the president finished, Elder H laughed.
“My dear sweet wife is fine,” Elder H told us. “The problem is me. I am old, blind, and deaf. I can’t see the clock, so I have no idea what time it is. So, she tries to help me know when it is time for me to quit speaking by giving me some signal. We have tried everything from her waving a bright scarf to anything else you can think of. Our current signal was for her to cough to get my attention. But frankly, I didn’t hear her, and apparently she was almost killing herself trying.”
He then shared one last story about how he and his wife had met and how much he loved her. Then he laughed. “I can promise you that back when we were both young, she got my attention without even trying.”
And as they left, hand in hand, each with a cane in the other hand, I thought that attention has become a wonderful, unbreakable bond.