Her room is a blind island in the house, whose sound and breath shuttle forth in the shared air, the air of her room pungent, hung heavy with the greasy disinfected smell of her long dying, half a decade’s static marathon, the bed a last siege, the beige plastic bed rails a hospice palisade. From her lookout, the small television on the dresser is a distant shoreline, peels of repeat game-show laughter and applause wash in waves. This is your life, Irene Mahalia Dickson Cornelson. The eternal newlyweds of decades past are flickering prophets of young love’s delighted ignorance. You have taken to telling everyone you love them. Not just family, but orderlies, technicians and now the hospice nurse and the man appraising the house for another mortgage. I sit with you through a thunderstorm. You fear a power outage will kill the oxygen. I ask you where the love for strangers comes from, and you tell me a story about how you didn’t always love everyone.
One night, Jesus laid it down in my heart in a dream. I was all in darkness, wasn’t nothing but empty darkness until he put before me the wrinkled face of an old black woman crying so pitiful and broken-hearted. I ain’t never seen nobody so broken-hearted—it cut right through me, made me broken-hearted too. I asked how come she hurt so much, what happened to make her so sad. She told me her son had died, and then Jesus laid her pain in my heart like it was my own. I tell you, I woke up crying something fierce. No mamma should know the death of one of her babies. Jesus laid down it in my heart how all us mothers ain’t no different in our love, it’s the love we got that makes us the same, and after that I wasn’t prejudiced no more because Jesus laid it down in my heart. We’re all his children, and he told us we got to love one another.